Off the court, however, Mutombo was a true humanitarian, as he devoted his post-basketball career to helping out with the notorious poverty in Africa. Not only did he accomplish a fantastic career, winning four Defensive Player of the Year Awards, but he was perceived to be one of the most genuine, good guys in the association.
Yesterday, though, the world learned grim details of a multi-million dollar scam that the former Atlanta Hawk big man had a huge role in.
Mike Tolson and Tony Freemantle shed light on this sad news.
Mutombo was in New York on a more personal cause — trying to interest a Houston oil executive in a $10 million deal to buy 1,045 pounds of gold from the mines of eastern Congo, the heart of the conflict mineral trade. If Mutombo had reservations about the apparent contradiction between word and deed, he did not show it. He eagerly explained how he and his family had 4 tons of Congolese gold just waiting for a buyer. Enter Kase Lawal. As chairman of CAMAC, a Houston energy company, Lawal knew Mutombo from the latter’s final days with the Houston Rockets — and he knew how to do business in Africa. Lawal moved to Houston from Nigeria as a young man and built a company that prospered in large measure because of his operations there and in neighboring countries. Better yet, he had millions of dollars at his disposal, a corporate jet big enough to move extra cargo and an old family friend, Carlos St. Mary, with experience trading Third World minerals.
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. To make matters worse, Lawal had to pay millions more to recover his plane and his people. St. Mary said Lawal later told him the entire ordeal cost him around $30 million. [...] Not only had Mutombo initiated the deal, St. Mary said, but he and his family played a key role from the onset, one not revealed until recently with the release of a United Nations report on Congo’s militia activity that recounts the incident.
The NBA world does not know the whole story of the affair, so it may be too early to label Mutombo as a scam artist. However, if these allegations are true, I think we all deserve to wag a finger back at Mutombo.
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