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DRC: Gertler affair raises questions over rot in banking sector

By Christophe Le Bec
Posted on Tuesday, 27 April 2021 15:49

Dan Gertler is accused, among other things, of having garnered $1.36 billion in undue profits. © Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Despite the dominance of the US dollar and prevalence of cash transactions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kinshasa bankers say they are putting out all the stops to prevent illicit financial flows from transiting through their institutions. From exemptions granted, to government officials linked to fraud, to whistleblowers sentenced to death: how far does the rot go in the DRC banking sector, and what is being done to clean it up?

“Every time a scandal erupts, the reputation of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s [DRC] entire banking sector takes a hit since our partners, especially our correspondent bankers abroad, deem that our country risk is increasing as a whole,” the head of a Kinshasa-based financial institution tells us.

To say that Congolese bankers could have done without the Afriland First Bank case, which has further damaged the sector’s reputation and put a spoke in the wheels of the bank’s operations in the DRC and abroad, not to mention its relations with regulators, is putting it mildly. This latest saga comes on the back of the “100-days programme” scandal implicating Rawbank, and the Lumumba Papers investigation into BGFIBank’s subsidiary in the DRC.

Both financial institutions stand accused of facilitating illicit financial flows.

Dan Gertler, a controversial Israeli mining magnate and friend of the DRC’s former president, Joseph Kabila, is believed to have used a series of shell companies to open accounts at Afriland First Bank between 2018 and 2020. According to two whistle-blowers, despite being sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), Gertler deposited several millions of dollars into these accounts and proceeded to transfer the funds to other accounts held in the country and overseas.

Whistle-blowers sentenced to death

Whistle-blowers Gradi Koko and Navy Malela, former head and deputy head, respectively, of the internal audit department of Afriland First Bank CD, the Congolese subsidiary of Cameroon-headquartered Afriland First Bank, allege that senior management members facilitated financial transactions that violated the bank’s compliance requirements – allegations the financial institution vigorously denies.