Miami takes shine to Mr Goldfinger

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The Independent Online
Babani Sissoko has Miami's authorities confused. Even the local Cuban- American, Brazilian and Russian gangs don't flash the kind of tips he does. He gave his masseuse a gold watch and pounds 6,000 in cash.

Babani, as everyone calls him here, is from West Africa and in his forties - but he doesn't specify this. He doesn't specify much. Nor do his three lawyers. They seem happy enough with the pounds 40,000 Mercedes-Benz sports cars he gave them last week as gifts.

Miami authorities are niggled by the question: is Babani really a Robin Hood? Or just a hood? Where, they ask, did he get the kind of money that allows him to hand over an pounds 8,000 gold ingot as a tip to a band of musicians he hired at short notice?

Mr Sissoko says he made his fortune by stashing "take-home" gold nuggets he was given as a young worker in Liberia's gold mines. United States customs authorities believe his true gold mine is shipping American weapons, including helicopters, to the highest bidders in Africa.

They have a point. He is about to go to jail, for 45 days, for offering pounds 20,000 to a US customs agent to turn a blind eye to two military-style Bell helicopters he wanted to ship to Africa.

In an interview with the Miami Herald, Mr Sissoko said he was born to a poor, illiterate family in Mali.

He stowed away on a ship to China, where he made his first money in commissions from an agent who charged people just to look at him because they had never seen a black man before. Later, Mr Sissoko made a pilgrimage to a guru in Bombay, but when he asked him the meaning of life, the guru died. So Mr Sissoko made the logical choice and came to Miami.

At a local car dealership the other day, he overheard a Miami woman negotiating the price of a Range Rover. He walked over and insisted the dealer put the vehicle on his bill. "I was sent by God," he told the woman and the dealer. The woman was speechless. The dealer took the cheque.

Then he gave pounds 200,000 to a Miami high-school marching band so that they can play at a parade in New York. "I know it sounds strange, but he says giving away money just makes him happy," explained one of his lawyers.