The Biden administration recently re-imposed sanctions on Israeli businessman Dan Gertler for alleged massive corruption in the lucrative mining sector in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Journalist Franz Wilde assessed his remarkable rise and alliance with former President Joseph Kabila who saw him be appointed as a Congolese diplomat.
When the United States imposed sanctions on the mining magnate in 2017, it appointed President Donald Trump’s attorney to withdraw them.
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Sanctions were imposed for his alleged corrupt relationship with former DRC president Joseph Kabila, helping him reap a colossal fortune from copper and cobalt contracts in the country, which the two men deny.
A spokesman for Mr. Gertler said the allegations were “unfairly and wrongly directed against.” [lui]Adding that “there is not the slightest reliable evidence to support them.”
In two decades, Mr. Gertler, who was only 47 years old, had become one of the most powerful businessmen in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
He controlled multinational mining companies that had the opportunity to exploit the country’s extraordinary reserves of copper, cobalt, tin, gold and diamonds. At times, Mr. Gertler also became Mr. Kabila’s principal diplomatic envoy.
The appointment of Mr. Trump’s attorney, Alan Dershowitz, also proved successful.
In its final days, the Trump administration granted Mr.Gertler the so-called sanctions license, which granted him access to its frozen funds and the international banking system for a year.
In March, however, their situation was significantly reversed.
After protesting against the licensing of sanctions from anti-corruption activists, members of the US Congress, and former State Department officials, Mr. Gertler became an early example of President Joe Biden’s stated commitment to support a principled foreign policy, including the suppression of international corruption. The administration has withdrawn the license.
“The license previously granted to Mr. Gertler conflicts with the strong interests of US foreign policy in fighting corruption in the world,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said, adding that Mr. Gertler “has participated in large-scale activities. Corruption.”
Dershowitz complained that the United States had withdrawn the sanctions license “unilaterally”, without giving Mr. Gertler the opportunity to demonstrate that he was fulfilling his obligations by allowing an outside controller to monitor its activities and report its financial transactions.
The American declaration captured the power and influence of the businessman and the symbolism of the sanctions.
Price said the sanctions were necessary “to combat corruption and promote stability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo”.
“The United States will continue to enhance the accountability of corrupt actors with all the tools at their disposal to advance democracy, uphold international standards, and impose tangible costs on those who seek to annoy them,” he says.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mr. Gertler acted as a mediator between the state and multinational corporations and also managed the companies on behalf of Mr. Kabila, in accordance with the U.S. sanctions declaration. Now that President Felix Tshisekedi, in power since 2019, has gradually wrested control from Mr. Kabila over the political establishment in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United States wants to contain Mr. Gertler as well.
Get Bush’s support for Kabila
The son of a prosperous family of diamond merchants from Tel Aviv, a football fan, Mr. Gertler arrived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1997, shortly after Kabila’s father, Laurent Desiree, came to power.
In 2000, when the Civil War risked abruptly ending Kabila’s reign as it had begun, Mr. Gertler pledged millions of dollars and, according to a United Nations report, to acquire weapons – both of which are best in helping the new ruler stay in power. In return, it secured a monopoly on important diamond exports from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Mr. Gertler gained the confidence of the youngest Kabila, who came to power when his father was assassinated in 2001.
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In the midst of a war with Rwanda, an ally of the United States, he sends young leader Mr. Gertler to Washington to request the support of President George W. Bush.
After lengthy discussions with Mr. Gertler, the Bush administration agreed to support President Kabila, helping to pave the way for a peace agreement between the warring parties and consolidate Mr. Kabila’s authority.
Mr. Gertler also became the country’s honorary consul to Israel and received a diplomatic passport.
“More than 55 billion CFA francs have been paid in bribes”
The companies controlled by Mr. Gertler began winning mineral deposit licenses across the country.
He often helped multinationals, such as the Swiss commodity trader Glencore and New York-based Och-Ziff Capital Management, invest in large mining projects and reap his huge profits.
If only Mr. Gertler’s mining operations were not crowned with success, it is not because of lack of attempt.
He once sent training helicopters into the Congolese jungle in search of iron ore. It turned out that the project was going to be too expensive and complicated to have.
Before investing with Mr. Gertler, he commissioned Och-Ziff to conduct a study of the way he conducted the business.
According to the US Department of Justice, which subsequently accepted an admission of guilt and a fine from Och-Ziff for committing corruption offenses, Mr. Gertler “was prepared to use his considerable political influence with [M. Kabila]… and his clique to facilitate acquisitions, settle disputes and frustrate competitors. ”
The names of Mr. Gertler and Mr. Kabila were hidden in the Ministry of Justice announcement, but their identities were confirmed separately.
In his agreement with the Ministry of Justice, Och-Ziff acknowledged that Mr Gertler has in fact paid at least $ 100 million (55,176,197,000 FCFA) into the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which Mr Gertler denies.
He became one of the wealthiest men in Israel and had a luxurious three-story home built with a shingle elevator in a slum in Tel Aviv. He said he felt more comfortable there, integrated into a Jewish community that shared his religious devotion.
Over time, questions grew about the transactions of Mr. Gertler, who invited reporters to see for themselves how his projects benefited the Democratic Republic of the Congo, although details of the alleged corrupt transactions were not cleared up.
On his website we can read the following: “He has always considered his mission to help the Democratic Republic of the Congo recover. [sa] A long period of devastation and building a sustainable economic recovery. “
During a copper and cobalt project in the south of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2012, Mr. Gertler happily jumped behind the wheel of a bus to transport visitors to a place where dry forests were cleared for an open pit mine and massive processing machines.
Mr. Gertler waved around as he veered off the dirt track. “The jungle was here,” he shouted into the bus’s public address system. “The forest, the woods, the woods. I said, Guys, this is my child, you have to find copper.”
This particular deposit did not result in much, but Mr Gertler profited from some of the largest copper and cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Life under a new president
And the questions keep growing.
The Och-Ziv case added details to the allegations against him.
According to a report commissioned by the Africa Progress Panel, the Democratic Republic of the Congo lost at least $ 1.36 billion in transactions that Mr Gertler participated in between 2010 and 2012 alone, and the United States imposed sanctions.
Despite the setbacks, Mr. Gertler’s private jet continued to fly regularly to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
While Gertler’s exemption from sanctions was short-lived, it likely enabled him to settle at least some of his finances. The much bigger challenge will be to maintain his dominance in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he remains so far out of reach.
Since coming to power two years ago, President Tshisekedi has gradually stifled the powerful influence of his predecessor.
In recent weeks, Mr. Tshisekedi has called on loyalists to lead his government and parliament. For many Congolese, Mr. Gertler embodies the corruption of the Kabila years. Whether Mister Gertler can remain influential under the current president may become his biggest challenge yet.
Franz Wilde is Editor-in-Chief of the London Office of Investigative Journalism on Corruption Abroad.
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