David Pilling in London
Dan Gertler, an Israeli billionaire invested in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s mining sector, has been added to a US Treasury’s list of individuals under sanction, potentially squeezing his ability to conduct further business. In an executive order signed by President Donald Trump, the Treasury included Mr Gertler in a list of 13 people it described as “serious human rights abusers and corrupt actors”. Mr Gertler, it said, had “amassed his fortune through hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of opaque and corrupt mining and oil deals” in the DRC. He had, it said, used his close friendship with President Joseph Kabila “to act as a middleman for mining asset sales in the DRC, requiring some multinational companies to go through Gertler to do business with the Congolese state”. Steven Mnuchin, the US Treasury secretary, said: “The Treasury and our inter-agency partners will continue to take decisive and impactful actions to hold accountable those who abuse human rights, perpetrate corruption and undermine American ideals.” The action was taken as part of the so-called Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which was passed by Congress last year.
As a result of Mr Gertler’s actions, the Treasury said, between 2010 and 2012 alone, the DRC, one of the world’s poorest countries, may have lost more than $1.36bn in revenues from the underpricing of mining assets that were sold to offshore companies linked to the Israeli businessmen. It described one deal, in 2013, in which Mr Gertler had allegedly sold rights to an oil block to the DRC government for $150m, even though he had paid the government just $500,000 for the same block. “Gertler has acted for or on behalf of Kabila, helping Kabila organise offshore leasing companies,” it said. Mr Gertler could not immediately be contacted for comment. In the past, he has said that he has never paid bribes and that he should be awarded a Nobel prize for helping to bring millions of dollars of revenue to Congo. Elisabeth Caesens, director of Resource Matters, a Brussels-based non-governmental organisation, and an expert on the Congolese mining industry, said: “This is the first time that a US official institution explicitly accuses Dan Gertler of corrupt dealmaking in the Democratic Republic of Congo and imposes direct sanctions on him and 17 of his companies.” The US action, she said, gave a “very strong warning for any company that has done, is doing or considers doing business with him in Congo”. In settlement documents released in September by US authorities in a scandal involving Och-Ziff, the New York hedge fund, it was alleged that an “Israeli businessman” — whose description clearly matched Mr Gertler — had paid bribes to Mr Kabila in order to obtain special access to mining rights in the DRC. Yet Mr Gertler had not been explicitly named, said Ms Caesens, adding that Thursday’s US action represented a considerable advance.
The action could also affect oil blocks owned by Mr Gertler, she said. “Gertler-affiliated companies that own oil licences in eastern Congo also feature on the sanctions list. This will arguably make it impossible for Gertler and his holding to find an investor willing to develop the blocks.” In March, Glencore, the Swiss mining and trading conglomerate, severed its ties with Mr Gertler after agreeing to pay him $534m for his share of two jointly owned copper mines. A spokesman for Glencore on Thursday said the company “complies with applicable sanctions”, meaning that royalty payments from Kamoto Mine, the operator of the hugely profitable Katanga copper and cobalt mine, would have to stop. Analysts said that the sanctions against Mr Gertler, an alleged financier of Mr Kabila, could hit the Congolese leader hard, potentially ratcheting up the pressure on him to hold long overdue elections. The international community has been urging Mr Kabila, who has run the country since 2001, to hold elections that were originally scheduled for December 2016 but which have never taken place. As well as Mr Gertler, others on the US sanctions list included Yahya Jameh, the former leader of Gambia who fled the country earlier this year after losing an election that ended his 23 years in power. Mr Jameh, who is in exile in Equatorial Guinea, had “a long history of engaging in serious human rights abuses and corruption”, the Treasury said.