By JUAN A. LOZANO, Associated Press
HOUSTON (AP) — A flight attendant who says she was inadvertently caught up in an African gold smuggling operation orchestrated by a Nigerian-born Houston oil tycoon has sued the businessman and his company, claiming her detention by authorities resulted in post-traumatic stress disorder.
Kelly Shannon filed a lawsuit in Harris County district court earlier this week against Kase Lawal, president and founder of CAMAC International, a Houston-based energy company. The lawsuit also names Lawal's company and two of his employees and associates.
In it, Shannon says she worked as a flight attendant for a now defunct private aviation company hired by CAMAC to fly to Goma in Congo.
Matthew Leto, one of Shannon's attorneys, said she did not know the February 2011 trip to the central African country was part of what the United Nations has said was a scheme to smuggle gold from rebel territories in Congo's eastern provinces.
Authorities arrested CAMAC employees and the flight crew as the gold was allegedly being put on the private jet. Shannon was interrogated and held for six weeks in a hotel before she was released, Leto said.
CAMAC and Lawal "should be held accountable for what they did. You don't bring someone into a dangerous situation like that," he said.
Lawal did not immediately return a telephone call to his company from The Associated Press. Court records did not list an attorney for him.
CAMAC released a statement in February, saying it is law-abiding and the Congolese government filed no charges in the case.
Leto said the lawsuit's claims and details about the smuggling operation are based on a United Nations report on Congo that was issued in December.
Part of the U.N. report discussed the dealings of Bosco Ntaganda, a general in Congo's army who has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.
The report said that between December 2010 and February 2011, Lawal and his company took part in a scheme in which they tried to buy gold from Ntaganda. CAMAC disputed those claims in its February statement.
Congo is sub-Saharan Africa's largest country and has suffered decades of dictatorship and civil war. The country's east is still wracked by violence from a myriad of militias and rebel groups. Officials have estimated that some 80 percent of the country's mineral production is smuggled out of the country.
The U.N. report says about 25 metal boxes with about one-half ton of gold were loaded onto the jet. But before the plane could leave, authorities arrested everyone onboard, including a CAMAC executive and a friend of Lawal's.
Leto said Shannon knew nothing about the alleged gold smuggling. She now works for another private company as a flight attendant but is still being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, he said.
"She wasn't physically mistreated. But mentally ... she went through a lot of emotional distress. She didn't know if she was ever going to leave," Leto said.
Shannon's lawsuit is asking for unspecified damages.