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Wednesday
Jan252012

NBA Star's 'Abject Negligence' Cited in Gold Smuggling Scam

Jemal Countess/WireImage(NAIROBI) -- A former U.N. official says former NBA great Dikembe Mutombo showed "abject negligence" in a gold deal that resulted in him getting ripped off for millions of dollars involving a militia leader wanted for war crimes.

A U.N. report said Mutombo, who has cultivated a reputation for honesty and charity, is not guilty of any crimes. Mutombo could not be reached for comment by ABC News, but U.N. investigators said he was unaware that his business deal involved the wanted warlord Bosco Ntaganda.

Mutombo's actions may not have been criminal, says Jason Stearns, the former head of the U.N. group of experts on Congo, but he does call them inexcusable.

"For anybody involved in business in a place like the Congo, before they carry out any deals they need to do due diligence," Stearns says. "He can't really argue he didn't know."

Stearns says the humanitarian is guilty of "abject negligence."

A recent report by a team of U.N. officials investigating the violence and corruption in the Democratic Republic of Congo found that Mutombo, along with a Nigerian-American head of a Houston-based oil company and another investor, lost tens of millions of dollars that ended up in Ntaganda's pockets.

Officials say they believe Mutombo acted as more of an intermediary, rather than knowingly taking part in a criminal enterprise, but say the case highlights how corruption, lack of government oversight and mineral wealth continue to fuel Congo's conflict.

In 2010 Mutombo and three of his Congolese relatives met with Kase Lawal, the Nigerian-American and his partner Carlos St. Mary, the director of a diamond trading company, in New York.

The men worked out a business deal estimated at more than $10 million to acquire and sell more than 1,000 pounds of gold extracted from Congo's vast mines.

But Mutombo never saw the gold. Instead his money ended up in the hands of Ntaganda, a militia leader wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

According to the U.N., Mutombo's business partners knew before the handoff of the gold and the money in the Eastern Congo city of Goma that Ntganda was involved. Instead of pulling out, the report said, they were "reassured" by the warlord's role.

The scandal is a blight on Mutombo's otherwise-squeaky clean reputation. The 7-foot-2 basketball star played for the Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks, and was considered a model player during his 12 years on the court, twice receiving the league's Walter Kennedy Citizenship award for his humanitarian work and sportsmanlike conduct.

In 1997 he founded the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation committed to improving the lives of people in Congo. He has built hospitals, schools and even paid for the women's basketball team's trip to play in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

In 2007, President George W. Bush honored Mutombo in his State of the Union speech, calling him the "son of Congo" who never forgot "the duty to share his blessings with others."

Ntaganda, however, is on a U.N. sanctions list, but that hasn't kept him from earning an untold fortune operating businesses across eastern Congo and abroad. He's known to be so ruthless that he's reportedly executed officers within his rebel group who disagree with him.

The ICC indictment alleges Ntaganda, usually referred to using his first name Bosco, commanded a force responsible for arresting, torturing and murdering hundreds of civilians in 2002-2003.

Ntaganda takes advantage of elaborate gold and mineral smuggling schemes that involve interlopers in neighboring Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. While the trade in coltan, the mineral found in tin used to make cellphones and other electronics, has received so much attention the U.S. Congress passed a law requiring electronic companies to verify the origin of material used, gold continues to trade with almost no oversight at all.

For example, the monitoring group found that there was a difference of more than three tons of gold between the import statistics of the United Arab Emirates, where much of Congo's gold ends up, and the exports claimed by the government of Uganda.

High gold prices and little oversight make trading the commodity a lucrative venture for not only people like Mutombo, wanting to invest in the war-torn country, but also for Congo's brutal military and rebel groups.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Dec122011

New Jersey Nets Owner Running for President of Russia

Mike Stobe/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The billionaire owner of the New Jersey Nets announced Monday he would run for president in Russia's presidential elections in March. That will pit Mikhail Prokhorov against former president and current prime minister Vladimir Putin, generally considered the most powerful man in the country and a shoo-in for another presidential term, and likely two.

Prokhorov called it, “the most important decision of my life,” saying he is running because, “society is waking up…Those authorities who will fail to establish a dialogue with the society will have to go.”

The 6-foot-9 businessman was referring to last week’s protests against Putin and recent parliamentary elections that have been widely accused of being fraudulent. Tens of thousands turned out in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia on Saturday in the largest protests since the days of the Soviet Union.

Forbes puts Prokhorov’s wealth at $18 billion, ranking him third in Russia. His wealth comes largely from banking and the sale of his stake in a mining company, forced to sell after he was arrested at a French ski resort in 2007 for providing prostitutes for his guests. He was held for four days, but no charges were filed.

The question now is how genuine is Prokhorov’s run. He is not known s a fierce critic of the Putin regime and until September, he was head of Just Cause, a Kremlin-sanctioned liberal party. But when he was ousted from Just Cause, he accused top Kremlin official Vladislav Surkov of being a “puppeteer” and the Kremlin of orchestrating “a raider’s attack.”

“I can solve that problem by becoming his boss,” Prokhorov said Monday of Surkov.

Prokhorov now has to get 2 million signatures to get on the ballot.

“It is not in my nature to stop halfway,” he said. “So for the last two and a half months we sat and worked, very calmly and quietly, and we created all the infrastructure to collect 2 million signatures.”

The last time a billionaire challenged Putin politically, he was arrested and imprisoned. Prokhorov was asked Monday if he feared a similar fate to that of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in prison since 2003 for tax evasion and embezzlement.

“I’m not doing anything illegal,” he responded.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio