Former Obama Adviser Takes the Fifth

Former trade adviser and Democratic donor allegedly involved in an illicit gold deal

Kase Lawal
August 14, 2012

A former Obama administration trade adviser accused of plotting to purchase $10 million in gold from a Congolese warlord refused to detail his role in the illegal plot, invoking the Fifth Amendment more than 100 times during confidential court testimony, according to documents obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

President Obama tapped oil mogul Kase Lawal, a prolific Democratic bundler and Clinton family confidante, to serve as a member of the White House’s Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations in 2010. Lawal’s name no longer appears on the website.

Soon after his appointment, court documents allege, Lawal became entangled in a plot to purchase nearly 2,500 pounds of Congolese gold from Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, a rebel commander who has been linked by the International Criminal Court to ethnic massacres and rapes.

The charges raised red flags among D.C. foreign policy observers, who questioned why the White House would associate with such a controversial figure.

Lawal is a prolific donor to both the Democratic National Committee and the Obama campaign, according to public records in which he lists himself as the chairman and CEO of CAMAC International. He donated $35,800 to the Obama Victory Fund in 2011 and $30,800 to the DNC. Additionally, Lawal has donated varying amounts to several Democratic Congressional campaigns.

Lawal and his oil conglomerate, CAMAC International, are named as the principal defendants in a civil case launched by the owner of an airplane seized by authorities when the gold transaction went sour. The case is scheduled to go to trial on Sept. 10in Dallas, Tex.

"In responding to this litigation, Mr. Lawal engaged legal counsel who reviewed the various requests for discovery made by the plaintiff, some of which assumed acts of misconduct without basis in fact or law," said a spokesman for Lawal. "At the deposition requested by the plaintiff, Mr. Lawal followed the advice of his legal counsel and exercised the privileges and protections guaranteed by our judicial system. The claims made by the plaintiff in this contractual dispute will be addressed in the courtroom."

Lawal exploited his close ties to the White House to convince those around him that the gold deal was a legal transaction despite the warlord’s involvement, depositions reveal.

Testimony offered by Lawal’s key point man, Carlos St. Mary, indicates that Lawal sunk millions of CAMAC’s money into a deal rife with fraud and deceit. Lawal’s alleged actions would have violated a U.N. ban on doing business with rogue Congolese warlords.

David Disiere, owner of Southlake Aviation, the Texas-based firm that leased CAMAC International a Gulfstream jet later seized by authorities, told the Free Beacon that Lawal presented himself as a legitimate businessman, and touted his close ties to the Obama administration.

"You’ve got a man on this international economic advisory council appointed by President Obama," said Disiere, owner of the $40 million dollar luxury Gulfstream V jet seized during the incident. "I just expected more."

Disiere is seeking an undisclosed amount of damages against Lawal and several CAMAC affiliates, charging that all parties violated the terms of their lease agreement with his company, Deep South Partners.

"You’ve got an individual [who has] clearly been vetted by the government of our country and that gave me a lot of trust of faith that these are the kind of people we should lease the plane to," Disiere said. "I certainly never conceived the aircraft would be seized in a foreign land where an all-out war is going on."

Lawal refused to answer questions about the incident during a videotaped oral deposition on May 21, and invoked the Fifth Amendment in a bid to avoid self-incrimination, according to a transcript obtained by the Free Beacon.

However, testimony from CAMAC associate Carlos St. Mary was more forthcoming.

Lawal used CAMAC to carry out an elaborate, months-long plot to purchase the African gold at all cost, St. Mary stated.

St. Mary recalled that in 2010, shortly after Obama appointed Lawal, basketball great Dikembe Mutombo approached CAMAC officials with a plan to purchase nearly $10 million in gold at a cut-rate price.

Lawal, St. Mary, and Mutombo soon struck a deal: Proceeds from the transaction would be split between the trio, with 40 percent going to Lawal (a percentage that would increase as time went on).

It soon became clear to St. Mary that nothing about the deal was legitimate. Documents attesting the gold’s origin and legality turned out to be forged, he said.

"I discovered that nothing was authentic about the documents," St. Mary told lawyers. "They were all fake."

Informed that warlord Ntaganda was pulling the strings behind the deal, Lawal instructed St. Mary to continue pursuing the gold, according to the deposition and a U.N. report on the matter.

St. Mary further claimed that Mutombo might have lied about having the proper licenses to export the Congolese gold.

By the time St. Mary realized this, however, he had already paid Ntaganda millions of dollars in counterfeit money provided by Lawal’s CAMAC, according to a U.N. report on the episode.

As the handoff took place on the tarmac of a Congolese airport in early 2011, all "hell broke lose," St. Mary stated in his deposition.

"When we debarked the plane and the bag [of money] hit the tarmac, there were over 150 people … on the tarmac from every agency," he stated. "National Guard, Republican Guard, Presidential Guard, NSA, customs, federal police."

Authorities then arrested St. Mary and his associates, detaining them until Lawal paid $3 million in fines several months later, St. Mary said.

Mutombo also took up St. Mary’s case, lobbying the Obama administration to secure his return, according to the deposition.

"He [Mutombo] said that … he had lobbied a lot on our behalf with Washington, D.C., and he indicated that—that Kase was quite impressed with his ability and—his ability to lobby at the U.S. State Department on our behalf and was surprised at the number of people that he knew because he was the former ambassador to the Congo under Clinton’s administration."

Another casualty of the botched transaction was airplane owner Disiere’s Gulfstream jet.

"It’s been a nightmare since the day it happened," Disiere said. "It’s just a shock."

Disiere says that the episode has put his livelihood in jeopardy, as he struggles to pay off a $17 million loan that has defaulted.

"It’s difficult, difficult to have these surprises," he said. "You just don’t think [that] your loan will get called and your aircraft seized, and we had no idea this company would take the plane into Central Africa to trade gold. We didn’t include that in the lease because it sounds like a James Bond movie."