by Marcel Mutoni @marcel_mutoni

Throughout his life and basketball career, Dikembe Mutombo was known for blocking shots, wagging his finger after said blocked shots, and for doing tireless humanitarian work in the Congo.

According to some business associates of Mutombo’s, Dikembe’s name and image aren’t entirely clean. They allege that the retired big man was part of a multi-million dollar gold scam.

The Houston Chronicle has a fascinating report on the sordid affair:

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.

There are many more details in the report from the Chronicle, which I encourage you to read in its entirety.

Not too surprisingly, Mutombo had no comment when asked about the allegations.