An oil company founded by a former Obama administration trade adviser has been ordered by a Texas jury to pay $32.4 million in damages resulting from a botched plot to buy millions in illegal gold from a corrupt Congolese warlord.
A civil jury in Dallas determined last week that CAMAC International, an oil and gas conglomerate founded by maxed-out Obama donor Kase Lawal, violated the terms of its agreement with the owner of a jet allegedly used during the gold transaction.
Lawal, who was selected by President Barack Obama to serve as a member of the White House’s Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations in 2010, invoked the Fifth Amendment dozens of times when questioned in court. Lawal’s name no longer appears on the trade committee’s website.
The massive fine is a major blow to Lawal and CAMAC, which has come under scrutiny by the United Nations and others for its alleged role in a deal to purchase $10 million in illicit gold from Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, a rebel commander who has been linked by the International Criminal Court to ethnic massacres and rapes.
It also reflects poorly on the Obama administration, which had tapped Lawal to serve as an adviser on global trade issues and hosted him at the White House in 2010 and 2011—after details of the incident began to emerge.
The jury determined that CAMAC and one of its officials violated the U.S. Trading with the Enemy Act, which prevents American companies from doing business with international criminals.
By venturing to war-torn Congo to carry out the deal, CAMAC breached its contract with Southlake Aviation, which had leased a Gulfstream V jet to the company that allegedly was used to transport the cash, as well as ten boxes of gold, the jury found.
David Disiere, Southlake Aviation’s president, said in a statement that he was thrilled with the jury’s decision to hold Lawal and CAMAC responsible for their actions, which led to the jet being seized by authorities.
"Twelve citizens saw through a smoke-and-mirrors defense put on by the CAMAC’s attorneys and clearly found that CAMAC caused my company to lose a $43 million dollar aircraft in a greedy scheme that violated the U.S. Trading with the Enemy Act," said Disiere, who as a result of the incident defaulted on a $17 million loan.
"You’ve got a man on this international economic advisory council appointed by President Obama," Disiere told the Free Beacon in August, before the trial began. "I just expected more."
Southlake Aviation’s attorney, Scott DeWolf, dismissed CAMAC’s claims that Disiere should have shared the blame for the plane’s fate.
"The jury’s verdict serves to vindicate Southlake Aviation and the Disieres," DeWolf told the Free Beacon. "Neither had anything to do with the unlawful activities of the CAMAC defendants."
During the trial, the judge and jury heard from Carlos St. Mary, a former Lawal confidante, who testified that the NBA basketball great Dikembe Mutombo originally approached CAMAC officials with a proposal to cheaply purchase the gold.
St. Mary, who was tasked with obtaining the gold, alleged that Lawal instructed him to proceed after it came to light that the warlord Ntaganda was orchestrating the deal.
St. Mary told the Free Beacon that the busted gold deal has had a lasting impact on his life.
"It appears that this has been a life altering situation for all parties involved," St. Mary said.
"I know the feeling of being disheveled and left to pick up the pieces of life," he added. "Each day, I try to shake the stigma of being called a ‘smuggler,' after operating and maintaining a clean image for the last 15 years. There are no ‘normal' business routines any longer, as I'm am sure that both parties to the lawsuit can attest."
CAMAC breached the contract with Southlake Aviation by knowingly venturing into hostile territory to finalize the transaction, the jury found.
Since Ntaganda is listed on the U.N.’s list of war criminals, it is illegal to provide any type of monetary support to him or his associates.
CAMAC also was cited by the jury for negligence, which accounted for $4.5 million of the total $32.4 million fine, according to DeWolf.
Lawal and CAMAC could still face criminal charges in the future for their alleged dealings in the Congo.
Kase Lawal and his associates invoked the Fifth Amendment "hundreds of times during their testimony in the case," according to the plaintiffs, leading some observers to suspect that they anticipate further charges, such as those which could be brought under the Trading with the Enemy Act.