Tuesday, December 27, 2011Last Update: 10:08 AM PT
Wild Tale of Gold Dust Smugglers
By JONATHAN PERLOW
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (CN) – An air charter company claims gold smugglers got its Gulfstream jet confiscated in Africa, and that Nelson Mandela’s grandson interfered with its effort to get the plane back.
International Group sued Daniel Padilla,
Richard Welkowitz and four companies in Federal Court.
The defendant companies are Blackford Development Ltd., Lake City Mob Associates LLC, Sarno Road Associates LLC, and Lake City Medical Associated LLC. Welkowitz is said to be an owner or officer of all four of them, and Padilla is called an affiliate of the unknown defendant ABC Corporation(s).
The International Group says that Padilla and Welkowitz, U.S. citizens, chartered its plane, which was seized by civil authorities in the West African country of Benin.
“Defendants Welkowitz and Padilla fabricated a scheme whereby they would locate and secure mined residual gold dust around Mali, Africa, arrange for the gold dust to be smelted into ingots, and transport the gold ingots to Cotonou, Benin, Africa,” the complaint states.
“In Cotonou the gold would be processed for export customs, duties and clearance to leave Africa, to be transported to the United States for examination and determination of quality to set a purchase price.”
The International Group claims a member of the Benin Parliament helped secure the Customs paperwork for the release and export of the gold shipment. But the aircraft was seized and the crew was arrested and held without charge, according to the complaint.
“The Benin court had ordered the aircraft to be impounded, as the court had ‘reason to believe that Daniel Padilla, the American citizen currently in jail in Cotonou on charges of conspiracy to commit fraud, is the owner of the plane. Padilla apparently presented himself to his local contacts as the owner,'” the complaint states.
The International Group claims Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Amuah Kweku Mandela, wrote to the president of Benin to protest the release of the aircraft, and threatened to sue the country if it were released. It claims the letter was widely publicized in Benin newspapers.
Amuah Kweku Mandela is not named as a defendant.
The plane eventually was released, but International Group claims the incident created an “adversarial relationship” between it and its insurer, and led to the Federal Aviation Administration advising it that its air carrier licensing company was in jeopardy.
As a result of the detention of the plane in Benin and the ensuing damage it suffered, International Group says, the owner of the plane pulled it from its operation and severed all ties with the company.
International Group seeks $5.3 million in damages, for lost opportunities to conduct charter trips, the pending loss of its air carrier certificate, the loss of operating contracts, the potential demise of its business, and legal fees.
It is represented by Steven Witkowicz with Handelman, Witkowicz & Levitsky.