Exotic Tale of Gold and Guerrillas

     HOUSTON (CN) – A flight attendant on an energy company’s private jet claims Democratic Republic of the Congo officials detained her for six weeks when she was caught up in the company president’s attempt to buy more than half a ton of gold from a Congolese rebel leader.
     Kelly Shannon sued CAMAC International Corp., its president Kase Lawal, the head of its Nigerian operations Mukaila Lawal, and Edward Carlos St. Mary, whom she describes as a longtime friend of Lawal and “an international diamond merchant specializing in rough diamonds,” in Harris County Court.
     Shannon says that during her 42-day ordeal, Congolese officials confined her to a hotel in Goma, took her passport, allowed her minimal contact with her family and interrogated her.
     Shannon claims she “was forced to remain in Goma without any certainty that she would be permitted to leave” until CAMAC paid $3 million to Congolese officials, and she was freed.
     CAMAC International is a Houston-based “global energy company” that develops oil properties in Africa, according to the complaint. It maintains offices in London, Lagos, Nigeria, Abuja, Nigeria and Johannesburg, South Africa.
     Shannon’s 12-page complaint details the back story leading up to her detention in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
     “On December 3, 2010, defendants Kase Lawal and St. Mary met with a third party, including former National Basketball Association player Dikembe Mutumbo, in New York City to discuss a deal to buy and resell over 1,000 pounds of Congolese gold,” according to the complaint. “Defendant Kase Lawal was to finance the purchase which was expected to result in a profit in excess of $10 million.
     “On December 9, 2010, defendant Kase Lawal sent defendant St. Mary to Nairobi in order to meet the purported owner of the gold, Eddy Michel Malonga.
     “On December 15, 2010, defendant St. Mary and several other associates inspected the gold at a customs warehouse in Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Kenya.
     “On December 17, 2010, defendant St. Mary, through use of CAMAC’s funds, paid $4.8 million to Malonga as an initial payment for the gold.
     “Shortly thereafter, discrepancies were uncovered by defendants with respect to paperwork provided by the purported customs officials in Kenya. Moreover, Malonga severed all contact with defendants after claiming that the $4.8 million was for a ‘General.’
     “In late December 2010, defendants ultimately discovered that Malonga was not the actual owner of the gold. Rather the gold was owned by General Bosco Ntaganda, a Congolese rebel leader who is known to have exploited minerals in that region.
     “Ntaganda is wanted by the International Criminal Court, but still enjoys the protection of the Congolese government. The United Nations Security Council prohibits business activities with Ntaganda due to his involvement in sale of counterfeit gold.
     “Despite learning that the proposed transaction involved Ntaganda, the defendants continued to pursue the arranged purchase after Malonga resurfaced.
     “On January 19, 2011, CAMAC employee Alexander Ehinmola was sent to Goma and met with two army colonels who transported him to a safe house to view two metal boxes that supposedly contained gold.
     “After defendant St. Mary briefed Kase Lawal on the details of that visit, Kase Lawal agreed to proceed with the transaction.
     “Subsequently, defendants prepared two separate bags containing the remaining amount of currency to complete the purchase and placed them onboard CAMAC’s private aircraft.”
     Shannon claims that on Jan. 18, 2011, she was “assigned to work as a flight attendant onboard a private aircraft leased by defendant CAMAC. At that time, plaintiff was an employee of Arcadia Aviation, a now defunct corporation. Arcadia was the lessor of the CAMAC aircraft.
     “Pursuant to the lease agreement between CAMAC and Arcadia, CAMAC was prohibited from operating the aircraft in any country ‘where exports or transactions are subject to specific restrictions … ‘ According to counsel for CAMAC, this included areas such as The Republic of Congo.” (Ellipsis in complaint.)
     Shannon says on Jan. 28, 2011 she was assigned to weeklong CAMAC flight with scheduled stops in London, Abuja, Nigeria and Goma.”
     “Defendants Mickey Lawal and St. Mary were on this flight and controlled all aspects of the aircraft’s travel itinerary,” the complaint states. “The flight was scheduled at the direction of defendant Kase Lawal in order to the gold purchase [sic] as described above.
     “On February 3, 2011, the aircraft was scheduled to depart Abuja and fly to Goma at 6 a.m. The onboard luggage included the remaining $7 million to complete the gold transaction.
     “After making an initial stop in London, the flight continued to Abuja and then to Goma, where the aircraft was met by three military officers dressed in army fatigues. These military officers were associates of ex-rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda.
     “Defendant St. Mary retrieved luggage containing the $7 million and delivered it to the military officer. Defendants St. Mary and Mickey Lawal then left the airport with the military officers, delivering the cash to a property owned by Ntaganda’s [sic]. Prior to leaving, the airline crew and plaintiff were advised that they would depart in one hour.
     “Later that day, the crew received a telephone call advising them that they would have to stay the night. Plaintiff was then transported to a hotel under the protection of armed guards. Plaintiff was advised to be ready to depart the following morning at 8 a.m.”
     Shannon says she and the flight crew returned to the plane the next day and after waiting around the entire day defendants called the captain and said they would have to spend a second night in Goma.
     “On February 5, 2011, prior to leaving the hotel, defendants again contacted the captain and advised that the aircraft had to leave immediately,” according to the complaint. “After arriving at the airport, defendant St. Mary, along with CAMAC employee, Alexander Ehinmola, arrived and began to load the gold shipment onto the plane. The shipment consisted of 25 metal boxes.
     “This process was interrupted by Congolese Security who blocked the aircraft from exiting through the use of military trucks equipped with surface to aircraft missiles.
     “The Congolese Security demanded that all individuals deplane and further accused St. Mary of illegal smuggling operations.
     “Each of the individuals on the plane, including plaintiff were taken into custody and interrogated.
     “Subsequent to plaintiff’s interrogation, she was taken to a hotel in Goma where she remained for the next forty-two days.
     “Throughout this time, plaintiff was confined to the hotel, only permitted minimal contact with her family in the United States, forced to relinquish her passport, and subject to further interrogation.
     “Plaintiff was forced to remain in Goma without any certainty that she would be permitted to leave.
     “After six weeks of enduring the emotional trauma and uncertainty as to whether plaintiff would ever be permitted to return to the United States, she was eventually freed.
     “In addition, St. Mary and Mickey Lawal were charged by the Attorney General’s Office in Kinshasa with money-laundering and illegal transport of a banned material. In order for their freedom, CAMAC paid $3 million in fines to the Congolese Government.
     “Defendants’ actions in knowingly placing plaintiff’s life and liberty in danger were outrageous and utterly intolerable.”
     Shannon seeks exemplary damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
     She is represented by Nelson M. Jones III of Houston, and Andrew Hall of Miami, Fla.

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