Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Leopoldville 1943 – Diamonds and the War Effort

In the summer of 1943, the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS), forerunner of the CIA, placed an agent code-named “Teton” in Leopoldville.  In real life a Michigander of Belgian descent named Antoine George Nader, he presented himself as Dr. Wilbur Hogue, on a mission to identify young Americans of draft age.  His real assignment was to figure out what was happening to Congo’s diamond production, so critical to the Allied war effort, but which had suddenly dropped by an amount equivalent to the stones sold to Germany before the War.  The OSS suspected someone was clandestinely smuggling the diamonds out of the country to the Third Reich.
The Congo diamond region
To legitimize his credentials and get some leads, Hogue stopped by the Institut de Medecine Tropicale Reine Astrid on Ave. Tombeur to consult an OSS informant, Dr. Adrien VanBrutsaert, who was working on a cure for sleeping sickness.  VanBrutsaert suggested Hogue take a room at the Hotel ABC (See Mar. 27, 2011) and spend time in the bar, which always saw a steady traffic of locals and visitors of various stripes and origins.  Hogue checked into the ABC and shaved his mustache, which he felt made him look too much like a spy.
Dr. VanBrutsaert's laboratory
Later that evening, Hogue took a place at the bar, playing with the tame python that liked to curl around patrons’ ankles. 
From behind he heard a breathy voice, “You look new to Congo”.  Crossing the room was a knockout blonde.  “Virginie Mayonnez”, she said, offering her hand, “I work at the Free French Consulate”.  Hogue introduced himself using his official cover story.  “You won’t find many suitable boys for your army here”, Virginie responded, “most of them are missionary kids and spend their time making pets of exotic animals from the jungle”.
Hogue sensed another presence at his elbow.  “Monsieur”, said the man in uniform, “Commissaire Smoutenbol of the Leopoldville Police. You must come to our office tomorrow to complete some formalities. Just routine, of course”.
After the policeman left, Hogue asked, “Can we have dinner tomorrow?”.  “But of course”, answered Virginie, “Meet me at the Café de la Paix at 8:00”.
The bar at the Hotel A.B.C.
When Hogue arrived at the Police Station the next morning, he found Virginie, Commissaire Smoutenbol and several sunburned-looking men loitering on the verandah.  It looked as though they had just come out of a meeting.  They dispersed and Virginie left without even acknowledging him.   Hogue completed three sheets of official forms for Smoutenbol, who duly stamped and initialed each page.
The Leopoldville Police Station
Virginie was waiting for Hogue at the Café de la Paix.  She explained that Smoutenbol had been meeting with a delegation of cotton planters from Kasai Province.  One of them was French and had a draft-age son, so the policeman had called her in for that.  “But, there seems to be something more going on with them than just the cotton harvest”, observed Virginie.
While they were waiting for their drinks, a tall man in a white suit stopped by their table. He flirted with Virginie, reminding her that his offer of a sightseeing flight over Stanley Pool was still on the table.
“That’s Zamboni”, she explained to Hogue after the man left. “He runs a small trucking company, but he just got a new aeroplane.  No one knows how he managed that, considering military priorities these days.”  Sensing Virginie could be trusted with a little insight into the true nature of his mission in Leopoldville, Hogue opined that he was interested in knowing more about the Kasai economy. She suggested he talk with a Congolese nurse, Albert Monganga.
Virginie and Hogue at the Cafe de la Paix
Monganga was an “Assistant Medical”, highly trained and with years of experience, but in the segregated society of the Belgian Congo, could never become a doctor. Hogue found him at the Municipal Hygiene office on Ave. Wanson near the Zoo (See Feb. 6, 2011). Explaining his recommendation from Mlle. Mayonnez, Hogue embarked on a convoluted exposition concerning missionary kids, the war effort and the Kasai economy.  Did Monganga have any thoughts on the matter?  “I have heard that there are a lot of visitors these days at the ‘Petit Chutes’ outside town, the Chutes de la Lukaya.” Monganga replied, “You might want to take a look there”.
Albert Monganga directs Hogue to the Chutes de la Lukaya
      The next morning Hogue took a small launch up the Lukaya to the falls.  As he approached the beach, a shot ricocheted off the metal roof of his little steamer.  Hogue steered into the papyrus and circled round to the thicket where the gunshot had come from.
Hogue approaching the Chutes de la Lukaya
         Suddenly, someone jumped him from behind.  Hogue threw the man off and picked up a large rock.  Something told him this was no time for subtlety.  “What do you know about the diamonds?” he roared. 
“Commissaire Smoutenbol has organized a smuggling ring.” his attacker groaned miserably, “The planters bring the diamonds to town when they come on business and Zamboni flies them out of the country”.  Hogue tied the man up and sent him floating down the Lukaya in his row-boat.
Hogue fends off his attacker
Getting to the truth
      Back at the Hotel ABC in Leopoldville, Hogue sent a message detailing the entire smuggling operation to OSS Headquarters on a special transmitter provided to him by the spy agency.  “CONGO CROSSING DIFFICULT PERIOD IN WAR EFFORT…” it began.  Just as he finished transmitting, Virginie knocked on the door and entered with Albert Monganga.  Without elaborating, she looked him in the eyes, saying, “You have done a great service to the Allied war effort”.  Suddenly, a shot crashed through the door, just missing Monganga.  Hogue grabbed his agency-issued semi-automatic.  “Who is it?” he growled.
Hogue's room at the Hotel A.B.C. (note special transmitting equipment at left)
     Zamboni pushed open the door and entered, pistol at the ready.  “I see you met my friends at the falls”, he stated.  “You’re clever, and good with your hands.  You should join my company.  I could pay you very handsomely”, he said, flashing a wad of bills. 
     “Get out of here”, snapped Hogue, “your kind will never succeed”.
M. Zamboni offers a deal
         The next morning, Hogue received a terse response from headquarters. “ALLIED PARTNERS WARY OF COMPROMISING KEY STRATEGIC INTERESTS IN WAR RESOURCES EFFORT.  MAKE NO FURTHER INQUIRIES, SUSPEND ALL INVESTIGATIONS INTO ILLICIT DIAMOND BUYING”.  Bitterly disappointed, Hogue packed up his transmitter. 
In the afternoon, dressed in his best suit and pith helmet, he took a taxi to Ndolo airport (See Jan. 27, 2014) where he saw Zamboni walking to his plane carrying a large case.  The diamonds!  Enraged at the ease of it all, he whipped out his pistol.  “Zamboni!” he yelled, then thought better of it. Duty first.  “Have a nice flight” was all he could muster.
Zamboni boarding his plane at Ndolo airport
  • Roberts, Janine, 2007. Glitter and Greed.
  • Pevney, Joseph, 2015. Poisson d'Avril.

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