GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo — A private jet plane registered in the U.S. under license plate number N886DT was grounded at the Goma airport recently for the most unusual conflict minerals business.
The plane is said to have come from tax-free haven Great Bermuda and traveled through Abuja, Nigeria before it landed late Thursday, February 3 at Goma’s airport. The crew consisted of an American, a Frenchman, and two Nigerians who carried a whopping sum of $6.8 million in cash destined for General Bosco Ntaganda, dubbed “The Terminator” for mass killings in Ituri for which he is wanted by the International Criminal Court. Ntaganda is a former member of the CNDP rebel group who was promoted to the second-in-command of the Congolese army’s operations against Hutu militants as way of persuading him to sell out his boss, General Nkunda Mihigo. (Nkunda has been under house arrest in Rwanda since January 2009.)
Two days after the plane crew arrived in Goma, the general sent to the crew a large parcel of gold nuggets, delivered via his bodyguards. As they forced their way into the airport, an altercation with special guards for presidential security almost broke out in gunfire. One eyewitness told Enough that presidential security guards keeping a close watch over the airport backed off when they realized the parcel deliverers were Bosco’s personal escorts. The bodyguards drove to the airplane and handed over the parcel. The packets given by the crew in exchange attracted the attention of security guards who were watching from a distance.
After Bosco’s escorts had left, the presidential security guards came to the crew to find out about the deal. Eyewitnesses say the crew was beaten, and only began answering questions after the presidential security guards threatened to gun them down. They said they gave money to Bosco’s escorts but only confessed to the full $6.8 million after the guards discovered the hidden parcel of gold nuggets.
The Goma airport civil aviation authority joined the presidential guards in warning the governor of the significant transaction, taking place in the midst of a so-called mining ban.
It is said that General Bosco is hiding the money from the transaction in a house that straddles the Congo-Rwanda border. With the gold and the crewmembers as evidence, it was hard for Bosco to deny the transaction took place. However, he didn’t admit having all the $6.8 million. When asked to hand over the money, he went into the house and brought $1.8 million that included $1 million in fake banknotes. It was staggering twist for the jet crewmembers, who had abstracts of accounts from international banks where they drew the money.
True to his moniker, the “Terminator” has seen time and again that no one will challenge his authority. No officials would dare search his house, knowing they would likely face swift retribution from Bosco and his men. So, only $800,000 out of the $6.8 million has been found so far.
According to preliminary inquiries, the $1 million fake banknotes might be tied to an international Islamic extremist network allegedly linked to al-Qaeda, hence the governor’s bluffing press release. The $800,000 cash and gold nuggets have been taken to the Goma central bank, and the crewmembers held by the Congolese secret service. More than a week after the transaction at Goma airport transpired, the crew remains under detention, and journalists have been unable speak to them, creating essentially a news blackout about the incident.
Tomorrow: More about the drama and how it relates to the mining ban.