close
close

Utah man declined $100,000 offer to travel to Congo for ‘security job’ that was covert coup attempt

“I feel really sad for Tyler and Marcel but, at the end of the day, I can just be grateful that I didn’t go there because I would be stuck in the same scary situation,” Daniel Gonzalez said.

SALT LAKE CITY — The friend of the son of a prominent Congolese opposition leader says he turned down a six-figure offer to travel there from the United States for the family’s security in what turned out to be a failed coup attempt.

Marcel Malanga, the 21-year-old son of eccentric coup leader Christian Malanga, was arrested Sunday morning by Congolese forces, along with a former classmate from their hometown of West Jordan, Utah, after his father was killed in a shooting while resisting arrest. . His high school football teammate, Tyler Thompson, 21, was one of two other Americans arrested after an ill-fated attack on the presidential palace in Kinshasa.

Six people were killed and dozens arrested, including the three Americans, following this attack and another against the residence of a close ally of President Félix Tshisekedi, said Congolese army spokesperson Brig. . » declared General Sylvain Ekenge.

Daniel Gonzalez, a former teammate of the two Utahns involved in the foiled coup, told The Associated Press that Marcel offered him between $50,000 and $100,000 to spend four months in the Congo as a security guard for his father, a politician. The 22-year-old FedEx employee gave it serious thought, but said it lacked concrete details. He ultimately refused so he could spend the summer with his girlfriend.

“I feel really sad for Tyler and Marcel but, at the end of the day, I can just be grateful that I didn’t go there because I would find myself stuck in the same scary situation,” Gonzalez said.

Marcel’s lucrative offer to Gonzalez sheds light on how he could have enticed Thompson to come take part in what his mother-in-law, Miranda, said was supposed to be a vacation.

It was one of several proposals made by the coup leader’s American son to former soccer teammates, in what many described as a desperate effort to bring someone with him to Congo. He billed the trip to some as a family vacation and to others as a service trip to build wells in drought-stricken communities.

Although it is unclear whether Thompson was offered any money, several teammates told the AP that he had hinted at such incentives, telling a friend that the trip could be a ” great financial opportunity.”

Thompson’s family insists he is a political pawn dragged into an international conflict under false pretenses. They have had no direct communication with their son since the coup and are worried about his safety, his mother-in-law said.

Marcel’s mother, Brittney Sawyer, said her son was innocent and had followed his father.

Christian Malanga, the assassinated leader of the Congolese opposition political party, saw himself as president of a shadow government in exile, which he called “New Zaire.” He described himself on his website as a refugee who settled in Salt Lake City with his family in the 1990s, seeking business opportunities in gold mining and used car sales before eventually returning in Congo to fight for political reforms.

While campaigning for the Congolese parliament, he claimed to have been imprisoned and suffered severe beatings. He later issued a manifesto detailing his plans to reform Congo’s security services and described his movement as an effort to organize his fellow émigrés against the “current Congolese dictatorial regime.”

“Marcel was quite secretive about his father. He didn’t even know him well until he spent last summer in Africa,” Gonzalez said. “There’s no way Marcel had any idea what he was getting us into, otherwise he never would have proposed to us. He is one of the best friends a person can have.

In the early hours of Sunday, Christian Malanga began broadcasting live videos on social media from inside the palace. He is seen with his armed son, who hastily pulls a neck gaiter over his face, looking around with wide eyes. Congolese authorities have not commented on how the attackers were able to get inside.

Gonzalez, of Herriman, Utah, said he communicated with Marcel about the financial offer via Snapchat, in messages that have since disappeared, in the months before the coup attempt. He was shocked to hear how the trip went.

Marcel had told Gonzalez that his father was letting him hire a friend so he would have company during his summer abroad. He seemed thrilled to be able to give such a large amount of money to a close friend in need, Gonzalez said.

The Malangas were promised on-the-job training, full coverage of travel expenses and the chance to explore a new part of the world while earning an income, he said. Marcel repeatedly insisted it was safe, but did not share details about his father’s background.

Neither Gonzalez nor his mother thought the trip would be dangerous, he said, although the U.S. State Department strongly discourages travel to Congo — but he refused when his girlfriend asked him not to go for four months.

He then saw private Snapchat videos filmed by Marcel that showed Thompson looking frightened as armed Congolese soldiers surrounded their vehicle. During Gonzalez’s last Snapchat exchange with his friend before their capture, he asked if Thompson was OK and urged them to stay safe.

Marcel assured him that they were.

Other former football teammates, including Luke Barbee and Jaden Lalor, had heard different pitches about the trip and wondered why Marcel seemed so desperate to bring someone with him. Neither could imagine their friends’ possible involvement in a violent attack.

“I consider Marcel a brother to me and Tyler a friend, and I truly believe that Marcel’s father had to pressure them to satisfy his own desires,” Lalor said. “I just want them to come back safe.”

BY HANNAH SCHOENBAUM