Sure, people make jokes about Dikembe Mutombo (many revolving around the legendary, who-knows-if-it’s-real “WHO WANTS TO SEX MUTOMBO?!” story), but no one’s ever had anything but completely earnest praise for his charitable work aiding his homeland of Congo. He’s won the NBA’s citizenship award. He’s in the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame. The NBA made him a global ambassador. His work was beyond reproach.
Insanely, though, that’s where we stand today. The alleged smuggling operation came to light in early 2011, when it was reported that the jet that flew four people out to Congo to seal the deal – where the jet, plus the 1,000-plus pounds of gold and $6.6 million it was carrying, was subsequently seized, and its passengers arrested – was provided by Kase Lawal, a Houston business owner. Mutombo’s name didn’t surface then, but now, with a report from the UN in tow, we know that Mutombo apparently initiated the deal in the first place.
The details are insanely involved – Mutombo knew Lawal from his days with the Rockets (Lawal’s company is based out of Houston), and thought Lawal could use his connections to make a deal on 1,045 pounds of gold Mutombo wanted to flip for $10 million. Lawal got a friend, Carlos St. Mary, involved. St. Mary spoke with Mutombo, but things started coming apart when he worked with a person named Eddy Michel Malonga, who claimed the gold was his (at odds with what Mutombo said):
In late December, Lawal reluctantly turned over almost $4 million in cash, but only after getting a certificate of ownership and having the gold placed in a secure customs warehouse in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. A week later, Malonga — and the gold — disappeared. The purported customs facility was a sham.
St. Mary said he reported the missing gold and apparent swindle to Kenyan authorities, and Lawal sent his security team to trace Malonga’s movements, vowing to do what was necessary to “smoke him out.”
Malonga, feeling the heat, called and said the gold had to be moved and was now in Congo [ed. note: the gold was originally in Kenya, as Mutombo said the deal would be legal there]. The deal could still go through, but St. Mary would have to come to Goma with the rest of the cash to get it. A Nairobi lawyer hired by St. Mary and one of Lawal’s security officers flew to the city of 500,000 on Congo’s eastern border and confirmed the gold was there, apparently secure on a military base.
And the rest is history. You can sort through the details yourself here and here, but as far as what it means for Mutombo: nothing good. (Perhaps that’s why he replied with only “I have nothing to say” when the Houston Chronicle contacted him.)
For all the good work Mutombo’s done in the Congo, the gold he was pushing was from the mines in the eastern part of the country. The Chronicle described those mines as “the heart of the conflict mineral trade” in the country.For an example of a “conflict mineral,”, think blood diamonds. Essentially, if this whole story is right, the great humanitarian Mutombo was trying to profit handsomely off the very situation that’s at the heart of his homeland’s issues – issues he’s been lauded many, many times in the past for trying to help resolve. Maybe we’ll see a crazier story today. We kind of hope not.
Getty photo, by Slaven Vlasic