By Lucy Komisar
June 18, 2008
“Where‘s Mobutu!” I never thought I‘d hear those words, certainly not at the Council on Foreign Relations. Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico spoke at a Council lunch today. The subject was immigration. Before the talk, several people, including this reporter, stopped at the speaker’s table to chat. I was standing there when Maurice Tempelsman approached Richardson. The Governor greeted him and said, “Where‘s Mobutu!”
Well, that was a conversation stopper! Tempelsman, a very very rich man, and a generous donor, frequently gets a place of honor at the Council head table, though not today.
Bill Richardson at the Council, photo Lucy Komisar.
Nobody raises the question of how he got his wealth. they never do. In fact, Tempelsman, who made his stash from diamonds, was Zaire dictator Mobutu Sese Seko‘s man in Washington. Beginning with John F. Kennedy, he carried Mobutu’s water in the capital for nearly four decades till the cruel despot was overthrown and finally died in 1997. In return, Tempelsman got access to diamonds and other mineral wealth.
Did Tempelsman or the Washington politicians he courted care that Mobutu was a torturer, a murderer and a kleptomanic who had multiple mansions in Europe while Zairians (now called Congolese) were scraping in the dust for sustenance? (Apparently Jacqueline Kennedy, Tempelsman’s companion in her later years, didn’t care either.)
I visited the country in 1990 and saw the misery and corruption first hand. In Lubumbashi, I was harassed and followed by Mobutu‘s security police, and depended on a local traditional tribal chief and the U.S. consul to get me out of the city safely. (I wrote about that for the Washington Post.)
Does Tempelsman or the politicians he courted care that Mobutu‘s destruction of the country led the way to the catastrophe in the region that continues in the Congos, Rwanda and Burundi?
So, good for Bill Richardson for reminding Maurice Tempelsman that the historically corrupt and murderous origins of his wealth are not forgotten! “Where‘s Mobutu!”