Held Hostage in the Congo

     HOUSTON (CN) – A pilot claims in court that Democratic Republic of Congo officials jailed him for 6 weeks after he was caught in an energy company CEO’s attempt to buy more than half of ton of gold from a Congolese rebel leader.
     Jay Engell and his wife Julie Engell sued CAMAC International Corp.; its founder Kase Lawal; Lawal’s brother Mukaila Lawal aka Mickey Lawal, a CAMAC executive; Edward St. Mary, a “purported international diamond merchant;” and CAMAC Aviation.
     Until recently Kase Lawal served as the company’s chairman and CEO, according to the complaint in Harris County Court.
     Houston-based CAMAC International develops and operates oil properties in Africa and South America, the complaint states.
     “On December 2, 2012, Kase Lawal and St. Mary met with a third party in New York City to discuss buying over a thousand pounds of gold from the Congo and then reselling it,” the complaint states.
     “Kase Lawal, individually or through CAMAC International, was to finance the purchase of the gold, which was expected to result in a profit of over $31 million.
     “On December 9, 2010, Kase Lawal sent St. Mary to Nairobi, Kenya in order to meet the purported owner of the gold. Thereafter, St. Mary and others inspected the gold at a customs warehouse in Kenya.
     “On December 17, 2010, CAMAC International, in a transaction facilitated by St. Mary, paid $4.8 million as an initial down payment for the gold.
     “In late December 2010, defendants discovered that the gold they intended to purchase was actually owned by General Bosco Ntaganda, a Congolese rebel leader known for exploiting minerals in the region and wanted by the International Criminal Court for ‘serious violations of international law involving the targeting of children and women in situations of armed conflict.'”
     Engell claims CAMAC International leased a jet from Southlake Aviation to transport the gold, and hired his employer, Arcadia Aviation, to fly it.
     Engell says the plane transported seven passengers, including Kase Lawal and his wife, from Houston to Nigeria via London.
     “Once in Nigeria, all of the passengers, except for Stephane Frank M’Bemba, ended their flight,” the complaint states.
     “On February 3, 2011, Mickey Lawal and St. Mary boarded the plane and unbeknownst to Engell, two large locked suitcases containing approximately $6.8 million were loaded on the plane.
     “The crew and passengers then flew to Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
     “Although Engell was not scheduled to be on that leg of the trip, at the last minute Engell was required to continue on the trip to Goma, DRC.”
     When the plane landed, Engell says, St. Mary, Mickey Lawal and M’Bemba told the flight crew they were going into the city, and would return in an hour.
     But the men later notified the flight crew they would be leaving the next day, and the crew was put up in a local hotel for the night, Engell says.
     “At approximately 10 a.m. on February 5, 2011, St. Mary called the flight crew and said they would be at the airport in one hour and ready to leave,” the complaint states.
     “The flight crew again returned to the aircraft and readied it to depart. Around 3 p.m. that afternoon Mickey Lawal, St. Mary and M’Bemba finally returned to the aircraft.
     “Upon their return, one of the two large locked suitcases was given to military officers, who were accompanied by dozens of soldiers carrying large caliber guns, after which nine (9) metal boxes, purportedly containing half the gold, were loaded onto the plane.
     “The second locked suitcase, containing the remaining $3.4 million, was delivered to the three military officers, who then left the airport with both suitcases, to ‘retrieve’ the remaining gold.”
     Engell claims that within minutes, “Congolese security officials arrived at the airport, prevented the aircraft from taking off through the use of military trucks equipped with 30-caliber machine guns, and demanded to review the appropriate paperwork for the gold that had been loaded onto the plane.”
     The officials told the flight crew that if they got off the plane they would be allowed to leave Goma and go home. But “In spite of the Congolese security officials’ demands, and Engell’s protests, Engell was not allowed to leave the aircraft,” the complaint states.
     “Eventually, the entire crew and all passengers were forced off the aircraft and detained in Goma, Congo for the next forty-two days.
     “In addition to being stripped of his freedom, Engell was subjected to deplorable living conditions, was under constant surveillance by armed guards, was interrogated on several occasions, and had to live with the uncertainty of whether he would return home alive or be killed, leaving Julie Engell to raise their young child.
     “Eventually, through diplomatic channels, Engell was exonerated of any wrongdoing and flown back to the United States and his family.”
     The Engells seek punitive damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence and false imprisonment.
     They are represented by Houston attorney Daniel Jackson.
     This is not the first complaint about the alleged gold-buying scheme.
     In September a Dallas County jury awarded $32.4 million to Southlake Aviation, finding that CAMAC International Corp. officials flew Southlake’s plane to the Congo without authorization.
     And in March, a flight attendant on the jet, who was held in Goma for 6 weeks along with Jay Engell, sued CAMAC International, Kase Lawal, Mickey Lawal and Edward St. Mary.
     Her complaint, also Harris County Court, resembles Engell’s version of the story.

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