DRC: Are Dan Gertler’s mining assets at risk?

By Christophe Le Bec, Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala
Posted on Wednesday, 7 July 2021 14:47

Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler, left, tours the Katanga Mining Ltd copper and cobalt complex with Shimon Cohen, his communications advisor. In Kolwezi on 1 August 2012. Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The DRC did not renew the oil licences of companies linked to Israeli businessman Dan Gertler. This means the country may soon start questioning his mining rights there.

Against all odds, on 21 June, the Congolese government refused to renew the exploration permits for oil zones 1 and 2 in Lake Albert, which were granted in 2010 to two companies linked to the controversial Israeli businessman Dan Gertler.

He was previously considered an “untouchable intermediary” within the DRC’s extractive sectors, due to his links with former president Joseph Kabila.

This refusal came against the backdrop of the political divorce between President Félix Tshisekedi and his predecessor, leading many to question whether a wider offensive against Gertler is imminent.

According to Global Witness, the Israeli businessman held more than 50 extractive licences in 2013, through a host of companies established in tax havens. These companies specialise in oil from Lake Albert, but also in copper and cobalt from Lualaba and Haut-Katanga, as well as in diamonds from Kasai.

The Israeli businessman was placed under sanctions by the US Treasury in 2017 on suspicion of corruption, which prohibited him from making any transactions in dollars and from having any link with US companies. As a result, he decided to repatriate most of his extractive rights to the DRC, so that his dollar accounts wouldn’t be seized or his partners incriminated.

Extension of rights invalidated

Gertler had therefore decided to transfer the rights to the Lake Albert oil blocks – which he controlled via two groups registered in the British Virgin Islands, Caprikat and Foxwhelp – to two new companies, which were registered in Kinshasa in 2018: Wood Haven DRC and Albertine DRC.

But this request to transfer oil rights seems to have gotten lost within the complexities of the previous Congolese administration. Similar misfortune does not seem to have befallen other extractive industries.

“My services are not familiar with Albertine DRC,” said hydrocarbons minister Didier Budimbu. “For such a transfer of rights to be valid, an operations committee meeting must be held and attended by the state representatives. The transfer must be approved by the minister of hydrocarbons and finally, an amendment must be signed by all parties. None of this has been done, so the approach undertaken by the company Albertine, which wanted to obtain an extension of rights that it did not have, has not led to anything,” says the minister, who is close to President Tshisekedi.

The latter states that Caprikat and Foxwhelp’s rights were due to expire on 16 June 2021 and that they were informed of this on 21 June.

Budimbu’s services could grant this block to a new operator, in exchange for a signature bonus, as one of the companies has been demanding it for several years. Total and Eni, which were once interested in these blocks, are no longer in the running as the former is focusing on the Ugandan side of Lake Albert, and the latter no longer wishes to launch a project in the country.

On the other hand, the South African company Dig Oil, which won an international arbitration procedure against the DRC in 2018 – for which Kinshasa has to pay €619m – could obtain the two blocks if it agreed to an amicable agreement with Kinshasa.

Civil society calls for distance

Civil society organisations, which have long called for the new president to distance himself from the Israeli businessman who was close to his predecessor, are cautiously greeting the end of Gertler’s oil licences.

This agreement could have allowed the companies to make more than $1.3bn in profits by buying extractive rights at low prices, which were then resold at market prices, notably to the mining giant Glencore and the Kazakh company ERG, say the NGOs. A campaign called ‘Le Congo N’est Pas A Vendre, CNPAV’ (The Congo is not for sale), was created by a coalition of  NGOs that focus on economic transparency both locally and internationally. According to them, Gertler continues to receive more than $200,000 a day from his various mining rights and royalties in the DRC, despite US sanctions.

Several experts of the DRC mining sector believe that the government’s offensive on Gertler will be limited to the oil sector and will be motivated primarily by a desire to settle out of court with Dig Oil.

Waiting for the general state of the mines

In the mining sector, on the other hand, launching a campaign against Gertler does not seem to be on the agenda. This field is under the leadership of new minister Antoinette Nsimba, who did not respond to our requests for comment at the beginning of July, citing a busy schedule. “You will get an answer to your questions after a general assessment of the mines,” she said, without specifying a date.

One explanation for why the mining sector refuses to act against this controversial figure could be because another one of Kabila’s close associates is still very much present. This figure is Albert Yuma Mulimbi, who still has a hand in many mining files (but not hydrocarbons).

He has been chairman of the Gécamines board for almost 12 years and is the architect of several public-private partnerships within the copper-cobalt sector. He has always defended Gertler, who has managed to withstand the political turmoil of the last two years, and his role as an intermediary. Mulimbi has also described him as an investor who took risks to revive the Congolese extractive sector when it was struggling, and who should be thanked rather than stigmatised.

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