Obama trade adviser + basketball star + warlord = Gulfstream V loaded with 1,000 pounds of gold

The Guardian reports a new UN report says a US trade adviser appointed by Barack Obama orchestrated a $20 million deal to buy 1,045 pounds of gold from the mines of eastern Congo.

The problem is that the adviser, Nigerian-born Kase Lawal who heads up a $2 billion Houston-based oil company CAMAC, knew he was dealing with the wanted warlord Bosco Ntaganda.

The Guardian reports Obama appointed Lawal to the US advisory committee for trade and policy negotiations in September 2010, just months before the deal was made:

All efforts to reach Lawal failed. Camac said it had no comment on the allegations, but said: "Camac is a law-abiding company and we disagree with the representations made in the report." The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Ntaganda has been wanted by the international criminal court (ICC) since an arrest warrant was issued in 2006. He funds his exploits by smuggling natural resources in the mineral-rich country, and faces allegations of recruiting child soldiers and presiding over mass rapes and murder of civilians by his troops in the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP).

The Houston Chronicle describes how the deal went sour after an associate of Lawal, Carlos St. Mary and Lawal's brother Mukaila (a.k.a. Mickey) who runs CAMAC's Nigeria operations, took a private jet to the Democratic Republic of Congo to pick up the gold:

There were, however, no profits to be had. In truth, the deal was an elaborate scam that ended at an airport in Goma with the seizure of the Gulfstream V jet and the arrest of St. Mary and several CAMAC employees, all suddenly facing accusations of money laundering and attempted smuggling.

More than 1,000 pounds of gold pulled from the cargo hold was taken away by Congolese officials. Two bags containing $6.6 million in cash were gone as well, into the pockets of a local general whose loyal troops oversee much of the nearby mining operations.

USA Today reports former basketball star Dikembe Mutombo, known for his involvement with charitable activities in Africa and the DRC, was intrinsic to the botched deal:

Original terms of the deal, according to the Chronicle, were that the sale would generate $10 million in profit and that 30% would go to Mutombo and his family.

The 7-2 Mutombo played his college ball at Georgetown and played for six different NBA teams from 1991-2009. His career earnings were nearly $145 million.

Sahara Reporters says Lawal's involvement in shady deals go back decades:

Mr. Kase Lawal was once considered a fugitive from the law after a high court in Lagos issued an arrest warrant against him in 1999. The warrant was issued in a time that marked a boom in his businesses, especially in South Africa where he secured the assistance of [ruling party] ANC officials and made huge profits from an oil deal that involved Nigeria and South Africa.

In 2010 CNN published a gushing portrait of Lawal – calling him the epitome of the American dream – who has received, among many rewards for business achievement, an honorary doctorate by Texas Southern University:

With his knowledge of Nigeria and his Houston address, Lawal was ideally positioned to attract major oil companies. In 1991 CAMAC made a deal with the oil giant Conoco, agreeing to jointly operate and share production from any Nigerian discoveries.

This turned out to be Lawal's big break.

With his political contacts, local market knowledge and now with the backing of a major oil firm, Lawal's Houston-based company became an instant player in the energy industry.

The Lawal scandal represents something of a bitter irony for the Obama administration which included in the financial reform signed into law in July last year a provision on conflict minerals, particularly from the DRC.

In an effort to choke off funding for the armed thugs and rebel militias that have killed more than 5 million people and turned Congo into the rape capital of the world, the new law will require thousands of U.S. companies to disclose whether their products contain minerals from rebel-controlled mines.

Tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold are essential to the manufacture of cellphones, laptop computers, digital cameras and other products.