US sanctions Israeli mining mogul Gertler over Congo deals

Treasury includes billionaire accused of corrupt business arrangements with DRC president on list of 13 individuals punished for graft and human rights abuses

Dan Gertler sits in his office in Ramat Gan on September 18, 2000. (AP/Mati Stein)
Dan Gertler sits in his office in Ramat Gan on September 18, 2000. (AP/Mati Stein)

An Israeli billionaire was among 13 people around the world sanctioned by the US Thursday for human rights violations and corruption.

The Treasury Department said it was punishing businessman Dan Gertler, who is alleged to have amassed a personal fortune of billions of dollars through corrupt deals in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Gertler is accused of using his personal relationship with Congolese President Joseph Kabila to siphon off cash from the sale of mineral and oil rights. The US said in 2013, he sold rights to an oil field to Kinshasa for $150 million after purchasing it from the government for just $500,000.

“Dan Gertler is an international businessman and billionaire who has amassed his fortune through hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of opaque and corrupt mining and oil deals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” the Treasury charged in a statement.

“Gertler has used his close friendship with DRC 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,” it said.

DRC reportedly lost more than $1.36 billion in revenues in three years as a consequence of underpricing of mining assets sold to offshore companies tied to Gertler, the US alleged.

View of the Israel Diamond Exchange center, in the central Israeli city of Ramat Gan, January 14, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Earlier this year, Gertler, whose grandfather co-founded the Israel Diamond Exchange and was its longtime president, was named in the Paradise Papers documents as receiving a $45 million loan from Anglo-Swiss firm Glencore to negotiate and secure mining rights in the DRC.

The Paradise Papers confirmed that in 2009 Glencore, the world’s largest mining company, gave the loan to Gertler for his close connections with senior figures in the DRC government, under the condition that it would be repayable if an agreement with the local authorities was not attained. The negotiations were for a mining contract for a company linked to Glencore, the Guardian reported.

Gertler, founder and president of Dan Gertler International, has been active in Congo since 1997, when he started his activities seeking rough diamonds. He has since invested in a variety of fields, including in gold, cobalt, copper and agriculture. Forbes has rated his worth at $1.22 billion, saying he built his fortunes through mining ventures in various African states.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin holds a press conference at the Treasury Department on July 13, 2017. (AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm)

The Treasury Department’s action freezes any assets the people have under US jurisdiction. Americans are banned from doing business with the individuals. It’s unclear whether these people have extensive financial holdings or relationships in the United States. But the blacklist is designed to cause reputational damage that would get banks in Europe, Asia and elsewhere also to cut ties.

“Today, the United States is taking a strong stand against human rights abuse and corruption globally by shutting these bad actors out of the US financial system,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. He said the penalties send a “message that there is a steep price to pay for their misdeeds.”

The penalties are the first batch released under the Magnitsky Global Act, named for Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, who died in prison after accusing Russian officials of massive tax fraud. It could help answer critics who say Trump has sidelined human rights in US foreign policy and sought closer ties with authoritarian leaders.

Those sanctioned also included a top Myanmar general, Gambia’s former president, the daughter of Uzbekistan’s late dictator, the son of Russia’s prosecutor general, a Serbian arms dealer, a Pakistani transplant specialist, a former Chinese security director and a former Ukrainian police commander.

The sanctions were the first set imposed under a 2016 law, named after a Russian lawyer who died in prison, that empowers the Treasury Department to target officials anywhere for human rights violations and corruption.

Myanmar’s Maung Maung Soe was put on the list for his role in atrocities against Rohingya Muslims. The new sanctions were the most serious US response so far to what it calls “ethnic cleansing” in the western part of the Southeast Asian nation.

Washington progressively eased economic and political sanctions against Myanmar starting in 2012 to reward the country for its shift toward democracy after decades of military rule. Ties expanded further as Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi rose to power.

But the relationship has soured since Myanmar’s crackdown in Rakhine state, which has forced 650,000 people to flee to neighboring Bangladesh and, according to aid group Doctors Without Borders, left thousands dead. Maung Maung Soe was until last month the military commander in Rakhine, and the U.S. said he was responsible for “widespread human rights abuse,” citing credible evidence of mass killings, rapes and villages being burned.

Based on refugee accounts, The Associated Press has reconstructed one such massacre at the village of Maung Nu, where at least 82 Rohingya are believed to have been murdered on August 27.

The action against Maung Maung Soe will put fresh strain on US relations with Myanmar, despite the Trump administration’s assurance that it still seeks to support the nation’s democratic transition and Suu Kyi’s civilian government, which has little control over security affairs controlled by the still-powerful military.

Burmese policemen look at burnt homes Myo Thu Gyi village near Maungdaw, Rakhine State, Myanmar, on August 31, 2017. (AFP Photo/Stringer)

The US has already barred Myanmar military officials involved in the Rakhine operations from U.S. assistance, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last week that the U.S. is examining other Myanmar individuals for possible sanctions.

Myanmar denies allegations of human rights violations, saying its security forces have not targeted civilians and were responding to attacks by Rohingya militants in August. But it has blocked independent access to the region, including by the United Nations, and impeded delivery of humanitarian aid.

Doctors Without Borders estimates at least 6,700 Rohingya civilians were killed in the first month of the crackdown, and human rights groups have documented three large-scale massacres.

Other individuals punished Thursday include:

Former president Yaya Jammeh (C,up), the Gambia’s leader for 22 years, waves from the plane as he leaves the country on 21 January 2017 in Banjul. (AFP PHOTO / STRINGER)

—Yahya Jammeh, Gambia’s former president. He is alleged to have created an armed squad known as “the Junglers” that terrorized and killed numerous political foes, including religious leaders, journalists and dissidents, while he was in power from 1994 to 2017. Jammeh is also accused of plundering his country’s treasury by stealing at least $50 million in state funds.

—Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of the late Uzbek strongman Islam Karimov. She is said to have headed an organized crime syndicate that used government agencies to expropriate businesses, monopolize markets, solicit bribes and run extortion rackets.

—Artem Chaika, son of Russia’s Prosecutor General Yury Chaika. The younger Chaika is accused of using his family connections to unfairly buy state-owned assets and win contracts, as well as harass and interfere with competitors.

—Roberto Jose Rivas Reyes, the president of Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council, who is accused of massive corruption and being responsible for widespread vote fraud.

—Serbian arms dealer Slobodan Tesic, who is accused of being one of the biggest weapons suppliers in the Balkans and bribing officials and politicians in various countries, including Liberia, and violating UN sanctions.

—South Sudanese businessman Benjamin Bol Mel, a former adviser to South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir. His company Thai-South Sudan Construction Company Limited is alleged to have been awarded tens of millions of dollars in no-bid government contracts.

—Pakistani surgeon Mukhtar Hamid Shah, a transplant specialist who is accused of trafficking in human organs by kidnapping and detaining impoverished and illiterate laborers to take their kidneys against their will.

—Dominican businessman Angel Rondon Rijo, who is alleged to have bribed his way into major infrastructure construction contracts, including for highways and dams worth billions of dollars.

—Gao Yan, the former director of the Public Security Bureau in Beijing’s Chaoyang Branch, who is accused of mistreating human rights activists, including Cao Shunli, who died from organ failure in his custody after being denied medical treatment.

—Former Ukrainian police commander Sergey Kusiuk, who headed the elite Berkut unit that is accused of beating, and in some cases killing, peaceful protesters in 2014. Kusiuk fled Ukraine and is now believed to be in Russia.

—Guatemalan politician Julio Antonio Juarez Ramirez, who is accused of ordering an attack in which two journalists, one of whom had reported critically on him, were killed.

—Yankuba Badjie, the former chief of Gambia’s National Intelligence Agency, who is alleged to have overseen the murder of opposition figures.

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