Four Americans Among Eight Arrested in Congo Gold-Smuggling Ring

Authorities in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have arrested a group of eight people, four of them Americans, after a car chase on Thursday resulted in a bizarre discovery: millions of U.S. dollars and, according to reports, more than $20,650,000 in gold.

The group, which aside from the four Americans included three Nigerians and one Frenchman, had arrived on a U.S.-registered plane in Goma from Nigeria on Thursday.

They were arrested with the intent to smuggle gold out of the country, which may have involved a rebel group. The area is rich in minerals like gold, tin and coltan, and has been under the control of armed forces since the government put a ban on mining and mineral trade on it in September.

A UN source reportedly told the BBC that the flight plan for the group included a return trip from the Nigerian capital, Abuja. The source then added that the same aircraft had performed the same flight in the past two weeks. The aircraft has been impounded.

North Kivu Gov. Julien Paluku told the AFP news agency that he believes, "this could be one of the networks which fueled the war in the east." The region has been suffering through 15 years of conflict between rebel groups and the armed forces.

There also are allegations that Brig. Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, who was sent in September to enforce the mining ban, was involved in the illegal transactions. In response, he told The Associated Press, "Never; I am a soldier, I am not a businessman and, furthermore, mining activities are prohibited on our premises."

"The Congolese government is determined to put an end to the mafia in the east of the country," said Lambert Mende, a government spokesman, who also confirmed the arrests.

"If a rebel leader is given money in exchange for gold, he will never leave the bush," Paluku said.