In politics, they say when you tackle a powerful opponent crash the life out of him so that he is unable to retaliate. And this is what Félix Tshisekedi is doing to his predecessor, Joseph Kabila.
Having crashed him politically, now Tshisekedi wants to neutralize Kabila economically. So far, Tshisekedi has successfully disentangled himself from Kabila’s grip, politically. Tshisekedi now commands a majority in parliament; controls the judiciary and the executive.
However, Kabila remains with a strong economic base in DRC that threatens Tshisekedi’s re-election maneuvers in 2023.
After taking over office in January 2019, Tshisekedi undertook a vast inventory of the main mining contracts signed by his predecessor Joseph Kabila. The findings were depressing for the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Apart from Kabila, there was another individual whose footprint was everywhere in the mining sector. And it is believed that this individual was a key financial partner of Kabila.
Therefore, if one was to totally annihilate Kabila and his network then he had to deal with this individual.
And this was Dan Gertler, an Israel billionaire that held a lot of influence on mining contracts in DRC. He also run Kabila’s money.
Tshisekedi’s pursuit of Kabila was further reinforced by information about stolen money.
Leaked financial documents reveal that between 2015 and 2018, an obscure Congolese company called Sud Oil, linked to Kabila’s brother, Francis Selemani, received millions of dollars from government institutions, including the Congolese mission to the United Nations and the DRC’s central bank. At the time, Selemani was the managing director of BGFIBank DRC, the Congolese subsidiary of Gabon’s BGFIBank Group.
During this time, Sud Oil reportedly sent more than $12m to accounts and companies owned or controlled by Selemani. The leaked documents indicate that while the money was transiting through those accounts, Selemani bought 17 properties worth a total of $6.6m, including four properties worth a total of $4.2m, in the affluent Maryland suburbs of Rockville and Bethesda and another 13 properties in Johannesburg’s affluent suburbs.
The millions of bank records were obtained by the Paris-based Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF) and the French news outlet Mediapart in what is being billed as Africa’s biggest financial data leak.
That leak prompted United States President Joe Biden to battle kleptocracy in Africa. In June 2021, President Biden declared the fight against corruption to be a core national security interest of the United States. The State Department has also taken action, recently pressuring Equatorial Guinea to abide by a corruption settlement that had lingered in the courts for a decade, after Vice President Teodorin Obiang was charged with using millions of dollars in ill-gotten funds to buy US assets, including a mansion in Malibu.
It is then that the Biden administration picked interest in Dan Gertler, the Israeli businessman. With consistent lobbying from the Tshisekedi government, Biden re-imposed sanctions on Gertler over alleged massive corruption in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s lucrative mining business.
The sanctions had been introduced for his allegedly corrupt relationship with DR Congo’s former President Joseph Kabila, helping him make a vast fortune from copper and cobalt deals in the country, something both men deny.
When the United States initially imposed sanctions on the mining magnate in 2017, he hired President Donald Trump’s lawyer to get them removed.
For over two decades, Mr Gertler, in his late 40s, became one of DR Congo’s most powerful businessmen.
He held sway over which multinational mining companies were lucky enough to mine the country’s extraordinary reserves of copper, cobalt, tin, gold and diamonds. On occasion, Mr Gertler also became a key diplomatic emissary for Mr Kabila.
In March 2021, however, his fortunes reversed with dramatic speed. After an outcry at the sanctions licence from anti-corruption campaigners, members of the US Congress and former State Department officials, Mr Gertler became an early example of President Joe Biden’s stated commitment to a principled foreign policy, including cracking down on international corruption. The administration withdrew the licence.
Then in December 2021, the United States imposed sanctions on a DRC national it accused of providing support to Dan Gertler, as part of a policy to target corruption in the central African country.
The U.S. Treasury Department accused Alain Mukonda in a statement of making payments into proxy bank accounts for Gertler following his designation in 2017. The Treasury said Mukonda made cash deposits totaling between $11 million and $13.5 million into accounts of companies he incorporated that ultimately belong to Gertler’s family.
Twelve companies linked to or associated with Mukonda in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Gibraltar were also added to the sanctions list.
“Treasury is committed to supporting the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s anti-corruption efforts by going after those that abuse the political system for economic gain and unfairly profit from the Congolese state,” Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo said in the statement.
Analysis shows that DRC was to suffer a shortfall of nearly four billion dollars from mining and oil contracts that it signed with the controversial Israeli billionaire.
The tycoon had deprived the DRC of tax revenues of $1.36 billion over a decade, according to a 2013 report by the Africa Progress Panel chaired by former UN chief Kofi Annan.
A coalition of anti-graft campaigners called The Congo Is Not for Sale (CNPAV) says that its own analysis of public finances found “the DRC lost income of $1.95 billion between 2003 and 2021.”
However, out of international pressure through sanctions, a company controlled by Dan Gertler has agreed to give control of valuable mining and oil assets back to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The oil assets of the Israeli billionaire, placed under sanction by the US Treasury in 2017 on suspicion of corruption, were targeted. The U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on Gertler and more than 30 of his businesses in December 2017 and June 2018, accusing him of leveraging his friendship with former Congo President Joseph Kabila to secure lucrative mining deals. So far, 46 people and entities in Gertler’s network have been sanctioned.
The two sides have formally ended the multi-year contract after negotiations concluded between a government commission and Gertler’s Ventora Development, formerly known as Fleurette Group, the presidential press office said, adding the company has agreed to return the assets.
In 2021, the Congolese government filed a request for arbitration against the Israeli tycoon, hoping to get two oil contracts cancelled and $150m in compensation.
The dispute in question concerns an oil production sharing contract between the DRC and these two companies “for the conduct of reconnaissance, exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons in the area of blocks I and II of the Albertine Graben”, located in the province of Ituri (East), bordering Uganda with Lake Albert.
Signed on 5 May 2010, the five-year contract was renewed until its termination on 16 June 2021. It provided in particular that 15% of the interest would be allocated to the DRC.
According to Congolese authorities, “the work planned (notably the two test drillings) under this contract has not been carried out and the DRC has had no choice but to terminate it”.
Dan Gertler’s two companies cited “force majeure”, including the fall in oil prices, as the reason for the delay in 2020. They added that they had already invested 130 million euros in the project.
When the two companies in a letter dated 16 July 2021 refused this termination, the DRC pushed this request for arbitration in order to obtain the validation of this break. The ultimate goal was to allow the two blocks in question to be granted to other operators.
By moving against Kabila’s economic interests, Tshisekedi is gradually taking full control of DRC.