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DRC: ex-president Joseph Kabila’s attempt to buy Congolese banks

By Pierre Boisselet
Posted on Friday, 24 May 2019 00:08

Details of ex-president Joseph Kabila's shady dealings have emerged. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

"Kwanza Capital": the name might not speak to most Congolese. But according to the American NGO The Sentry, co-founded by actor George Clooney, this company is at the heart of an attempt led by the Kabila clan to take control of several Congolese banks between 2013 and 2017, when Joseph Kabila was still president of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to The Sentry’s report, the Kabila family first tried to take control of the Banque Commerciale du Congo (BCDC), one of the largest banks in Kinshasa, listed on the Brussels stock exchange and majority owned by Belgian entrepreneur George Forrest. “The Kabila family and its allies, operating through an intermediary, first made Forrest an offer for $50 million in 2013 for his family’s shares,” writes The Sentry.

  • Yet George Forrest declined. According to some reports “he found the offer insufficient and, significantly, could not verify that the source of the funds was legitimate. Some of the funds for the purchase had been misappropriated from government coffers, according to a source with knowledge of the deal,” says The Sentry.

Beny Steinmetz and Dan Gertler

A few months later, in June 2014, businessman Pascal Kinduelo created a company called “Kwanza Capital”, destined for new acquisitions. Kinduelo, a businessman very close to the Kabila family, is the former head of the Banque Internationale de Crédit (BIC, now FBNBank), which was sold in 2008 to Israeli investors Beny Steinmetz and Dan Gertler.

  • “According to [individuals with knowledge of the operations], Kinduelo was little more than a figurehead acting on behalf of Kwanza Capital’s ultimate beneficiaries, the Kabila family,” the report says.

“Multiple sources with knowledge of the company’s operations identified [Francis] Selemani [the adopted brother of Joseph Kabila, then managing director of BGFIBank DRC, editor’s note] as Kwanza Capital’s boss and undisputed decision-maker,” continues The Sentry.

Privilege

Strangely, this new company was quickly granted the status of a “specialised financial institution”. But under Congolese law, this status is normally reserved for “credit institutions to which the state has entrusted a public interest mission”. According to the Central Bank’s annual report, in 2016, Kwanza Capital was the only private company in the country with this status.

In 2015, a second attempt to take control of BCDC began. The Congolese State, which owns shares in the bank, made Pascal Kinduelo the chairman of the institution’s board of directors.

It was then, “according to sources familiar with the second attempt”, that Kwanza Capital was offered “a loan of between $70 million and $80 million to finance the acquisition of the Forrest family’s shares in BCDC” – by a company domiciled in Switzerland: Quantum Global.

This company, headed by the Swiss-Angolan Jean-Claude Bastos, managed most of the $5bn of the Angolan Sovereign Wealth Fund, itself then headed by José Filomeno dos Santos, the son of Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos.

  • Jean-Claude Bastos and José Filomeno dos Santos were both arrested in 2018 as part of the corruption investigations launched by the new Angolan president João Lourenço. They were released a few months later.

Lobbying campaign

According to the report, the second attempt failed in early 2017, “for compliance reasons, according to sources with knowledge of the matter”; and “despite the campaign to pressure Forrest to sell”.

  • At the same time, Kwanza Capital was trying to influence the sale of another institution: the Banque Internationale pour l’Afrique au Congo (BIAC), owned by the family of businessman Elwyn Blattner.

As early as 2014, “Selemani sent an emissary to BIAC with an offer to buy the bank, intending to grow BGFIBank DRC by absorbing its competitor”. But, according to some reports, the Blattner family “considered the offer too low”.

Suspicions

In 2015, the bank’s difficulties worsened. The Central Bank of Congo would not manage this issue “independently […], which may have paved the way for Kwanza Capital’s allies to acquire the struggling business under favourable conditions,” writes The Sentry.

  • In June 2015, the Central Bank launched an audit of BIAC, and, in February 2016, it suspended the institution’s access to a credit line, which significantly aggravated its difficulties. In May 2016, it finally took control of BIAC and sought to acquire it.
  • It then “focused on an unlikely candidate, China Taihe Bank of Congo (CTBC),” created at the end of September 2016, which was  which was “authorised to operate as a commercial bank in Congo just weeks later.” The parent company of this new bank, the Chinese conglomerate Taihe Group, has a close relationship with the Kabila clan.

The president of the Chinese company, Wang Renguo, travelled to Kinshasa in March 2016. On 16 March, he met Joseph Kabila, then president, and his adopted brother Selemani. According to a press release in Mandarin issued at the end of the meeting and translated by The Sentry, Selemani said that he and Wang had already discussed Kabila’s “urgent needs”. Wang then interrupted him to say that Taihe Group would provide “active support” for these needs and that he would discuss the details with Kwanza Capital.

The next day, Wang met with Central Bank officials, including Governor Déogratias Mutombo, along with Selemani, as shown in a photograph found by The Sentry.

Moustapha Massudi, Selemani’s assistant at BGFIBank DRC, and Moïse Ekanga, a close relative of Joseph Kabila, would also sit on the board of directors of CTBC, which was preparing to acquire BIAC. But the transaction, in the end, would fail and BIAC would disappear.

The third attempt

Kwanza Capital attempted a third and final transaction. In 2015, Pascal Kinduelo and the bank created a new commercial bank, called Alliance Bank. In March, the Central Bank of Congo authorised it to operate as a commercial bank in Congo, even though it “may not have had any capital,” says the Sentry report.

The new establishment is looking for foreign correspondents, who are needed, in particular, to carry out transactions in dollars. But the US Treasury Department is imposing various sanctions against Congolese officials. Western banks are discouraged. In March 2017, Alliance Bank was forced to give up its launch because of a lack of correspondents.

Jeune Afrique asked the Central Bank of Congo, as well as Georges Forrest, for their comments on this report. They had not responded at the time this article was published.

This article was first published in Jeune Afrique.

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