President Obama, Kase Lawal, and Bosco Ntaganda
KPFA Evening News, 06.23.2012
In 2011, UN experts reported that one of Obama's top trade advisors, Nigerian American oil billionaire Kase Lawal, was implicated in a failed attempt to smuggle 4.5 tons of gold out of Congo's North Kivu Province in collaboration with General Bosco Ntaganda, an East African military commander who has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.
KPFA Evening News Anchor Anthony Fest: The deadly conflict in eastern Congo's Kivu Provinces resumed this year, shattering a peace deal signed in 2009. Human Rights Watch and other observers report that Bosco Ntaganda, a former soldier in the Rwandan Patriotic Army, led the rebellion. Meanwhile, last December, one of President Obama's top trade advisors, Nigerian American oil billionaire Kase Lawal, was implicated in a UN report for organizing and funding a plan to smuggle four and a half tons of gold out of eastern Congo, in collaboration with a group that included General Bosco Ntaganda. Lawal's team set up to do the deal despite a ban on exporting minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo. KPFA's Ann Garrison spoke to international minerals trader Carlos St. Mary, who played a role in the transaction.
KPFA/Ann Garrison: Carlos St. Mary told KPFA that he was skeptical of the deal, from the beginning, though he went along because of the credentials of the major players.
Carlos St. Mary: I'll tell ya' this. In New York, I was skeptical all along. But, you look at the players that are involved. . . a man that's done billions in oil, whom I've known 30 years of my life, and I'm 42, and then you've got another person that you would be somewhat reserved to think that he would put his reputation, after playing basketball on a professional level, for 18 years in the NBA . . . you look at the players at the table, and some things just don't match up. When . . .when Dikembe actually said that he had 4.5 tons of gold, I pushed back from the table and I said, "Kase. . . " . . I was like. . . "What are the roles? Who needs who? Because I'm gonna tell you, y'know, quite honestly, that, if you've got 4.5 tons of gold, you don't need to go lookin' for people, people are lookin' for you."
And that was a statement, when the overall presentation was made, indicating that this was a legal transaction and we can move forward, and we've got the resources, we've got the know how, we've got the power. Let's just get it done.
KPFA/Ann Garrison: This is Carlos St. Mary's description of when he first became aware that General Bosco Ntaganda was involved.
Carlos St. Mary: And, another person, who works for Kase Lawal, who had been sent in advance, had gone down to inspect the property and that's how we knew that we were OK to leave. His name was Alex. He boarded the plane and said everything's fine, the general wants to speak to us. This was the first time we'd heard about a general.
KPFA/Ann Garrison: But that was General Ntaganda?
Carlos St. Mary: Well, at that moment, they just said general. "The general" wants to speak to you. We had no idea who the general was. So we said, "OK, well, who's the general?" And actually Alex said, "Y'know, I've been in Goma a couple of days now, and apparently he is the real owner of this product." So, we all exited the plane, we went into the little section there. . . I guess, the . . .the waiting room. They put us in cars and then they whisked us off to the Karibu Hotel, there in Goma. After an hour waiting, I looked at Mickey. I said, "Mickey, this . . . this doesn't seem right. I was like. . .let's get our vehicles. Let's . . .if we can't get a cab, let's just get back to the airport."
They had some type of adjutant there, who was just kinda watchin' us, and he could clearly see I was gettin' nervous. At that time he's on the phone and he's callin' his people on the other side, lettin' 'em know 'hey," y'know, he's a little antsy. Mickey and Frank were with me at this time. During such time, cars pull up, they come to get us, and they bring us over to the Ihuchi Hotel.
Well when we get there, we go into a room and the place is littered with Bosco's soldiers. At this time we're just thinkin' "Wow." We really don't know what's goin'. About that time Bosco comes through there . . . . we didn't know who he was at the time . . . but he kinda looks like the ahhh, the guy from Crocodile Dundee. He's wearin' the same type a' hat. He's in civilian clothes. He walks in. He says, "Gentlemen, look it's gettin' a little late here. The airport closes at six." And it was about 4:30 at that time. He says, "We will not be able to load up the plane today," and he says, "we do appreciate you guys coming here to do business with us, but we need to hold you up for a day or so, so that we can take care of what we need to take care of at the airport, and then get you guys on your way."
We called Kase back at that time, and said, "Hey look, we're dealin' with some guy named General Bosco, and ahhh, he wants us to stay another day."
(Note, not included in the broadcast: Though Kase Lawal is no longer listed as a member of Obama's Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations, the Huffington Post reports that he has contributed $96,600 to President Obama's 2012 campaign.)