‘Bribe Totaling $360m’: Docs Presented by Israeli Billionaire Dan Gertler Embroil Him in One of Biggest Graft Probes Ever
Papers submitted to an arbitration procedure by mining magnate Dan Gertler reached investigation authorities in the U.K. and the U.S. ■ According to a recent ruling in Switzerland, the docs include an affidavit on Congo bribes totaling hundreds of millions of dollars, and a list with code names of the recipients
Documents submitted to an arbitration procedure in Israel on behalf of Israeli mining magnate Dan Gertler implicate him in paying as much as $360 million in bribes to officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo, going by a request for legal assistance that Britain’s Serious Fraud Office passed to the Swiss government in 2019.
The details of that request are revealed here for the first time, in tandem with a report on Bloomberg and the Africa Confidential online magazine. Insofar as is known, this is apparently the largest sum of money any Israeli has ever been suspected of paying as graft.
In the affidavit, the ruling said, the suspect explained how $360,292,535 in cash was lent to a company that used the money to pay large sums of cash to a senior public figure in Congo
The documents, which include an affidavit filed on Gertler’s behalf, were submitted in the course of his defense against the civil suit filed by his former partners, the brothers Moises and Mendi Gertner. The businessmen brothers sued Gertler for 1.65 billion shekels a little over a decade ago. They had invested in Gertler’s businesses and later lent the companies hundreds of millions of dollars over years, starting in 2005. They claim Gertler simply broke agreements with them and defrauded them
According to sources familiar with the case, the purpose of the affidavit was to prove that Gertler’s joint mining ventures with the Gertners were less lucrative than the brothers claimed, because of the need to pay for “the goodwill and cooperation” of the Congolese officials in charge of granting mining licenses to the parties’ joint mining businesses.
The arbitration case, which remains pending, is proceeding with the parties’ agreement to maintain confidentiality regarding their dispute, but some of the documents reached the UK Serious Fraud Office, and the U.S. Justice Department too. Among these documents, the petition reveals, is a list of the Congolese officials who allegedly took the bribes allegedly paid by Gertler’s companies.
The list also specifies the amounts paid to each bureaucrat, though the recipients appear on the list under code names.
Surprisingly, Gertler submitted the documents that got him into trouble while he was receiving legal counsel from top lawyers in Israel. In the arbitration, Gertler is represented by attorneys Dori Klagsbald and Boaz Ben Zur. The latter is also former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s defense attorney in the so-called Case 4000, in which Netanyahu is accused of offering favors for positive media coverage.
Goodwill and influence
The British SFO first asked the Swiss government for legal assistance in 2014, since which time it has made several more requests for documents and inquiries. In 2019, the British asked the Swiss to try to obtain documents from a bank in Switzerland that could bolster the evidence in the case, particularly in regard to a new offshoot of the investigation centering on new suspicions of money-laundering.
When the Swiss authorities asked the bank for the information, a company that holds some of the accounts which the SFO suspects were used for the vast bribery scheme appealed the decision. The appeal was heard in Swiss federal court and turned down. The ruling rejecting the appeal exposed the details that were provided in the context of the request for legal assistance.
In the affidavit that the suspect provided in the course of the arbitration, the ruling said, the suspect explained how $360,292,535 in cash was lent to a company that used the money to pay large sums of cash to a senior public figure in Congo, the Congolese president’s right-hand-man. The ruling goes on to say that the funds were later returned to the lender in part via the Gibraltar law firm.
Mwanke did not hide his close ties to Gertler. In an autobiography published before his death, he described his close friendship with Gertler, a person with ‘boundless generosity’
The ruling also says that according to the statements by the suspect himself, these payments were made to the senior official “in order to ensure ‘goodwill and influence’ on his part concerning continued activity in Congo. Other documents show that aside from payments to the president’s right-hand-man, funds were paid to other officials in the Congo government, with the payments to them recorded on a list that uses code names.”
The ruling does not point out Gertler as the suspect, but Haaretz has managed to confirm documents as described by the court were in fact submitted to the arbitration between Gertler and the Gertners.
Gertler’s attorney Ben Zur responded: “In response to your inquiry, we hereby inform you that no affidavit and list are known to be in the arbitration file as claimed in your inquiry and no such things are found there.”
The presidential aide described in the Swiss court ruling is Augustin Katumba Mwanke, who was the chief adviser to the former Congolese President Joseph Kabila, and was considered the most influential government figure in the country’s mining industry until his death in a plane crash in 2012.
Mwanke did not hide his close ties to Gertler. In an autobiography published before his death, he described his close friendship with Gertler, a person with “boundless generosity.” He also described a trip in which he and his wife were invited to a Red Sea cruise on a yacht, where Israeli illusionist Uri Geller performed for the guests. Mwanke died in early 2012, when the arbitration between Gertler and the Gertner brothers was already underway. Several reports say the private plane in which Mwanke was a passenger missed the runway as it was trying to land near the eastern city of Bukavu.
Gertler claimed the documents referring to the deposits were forgeries and also sued TheMarker in wake of the report. A Kinshasa court sentenced the two whistleblowers to death for stealing documents from the bank
Over the years, the Swiss court heard several petitions regarding requests for legal assistance related to Gertler. One, from 2017, concerned a request from the U.S. Justice Department which is also investigating possible bribery charges against the Israeli businessman.
One ruling rejecting another petition against the American request from 2017, mentions that the American authorities also have possession of arbitration documents. This ruling describes the documents from “Israeli arbitration proceedings,” involving “an Israeli Diamond Tycoon,” and suspected bribery intended to secure mining rights in the DRC.
‘The partner from Congo’
The Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa is the 11th-largest country in the world, in terms of area. While regularly beset with bloody ethnic conflicts and political instability, Congo is a key source of cobalt, copper and uranium and, to a lesser degree, diamonds. Gertler is very close to the Kabila family that ruled the country from the late 1990s through early 2019; he forged a close relationship with President Laurent Kabila, the rebel leader who seized control of the country at the end of a brutal civil war; and with Kabila’s son Joseph, who took over after his father was assassinated in 2001 and ruled until January 2019. Kabila still wields a lot of influence in parts of the vast country.
During that period, the billionaire from Bnei Brak was considered a key figure for multinational companies seeking mining licenses for cobalt, copper or petroleum. Among the companies that owe their mining franchises in the country to Gertler is Glencore, the international commodities giant which, in partnership with Gertler, mines some of the world’s largest cobalt deposits, in Katanga province in the country’s south.
Another of Gertler’s partners in the mining business is the investment fund Och-Ziff, which was investigated for fraud in the United States. In a 2016 settlement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the fund admitted paying more than $400 million in bribes in different countries. In Congo, Och-Ziff admitted paying $100 million in bribes to government parties until 2011, funds that were transferred via a “partner in Congo” who is described by the SEC as “an infamous sraeli businessman with ties at the highest levels in Congo.”
The American indictment does not specify who received the bribes from the Israeli partner in Congo, but several press reports about the indictment identified two of the recipients by name: the former president, Kabila, and his late aide, Mwanke.
Since late 2017, Gertler has been on a U.S. Treasury blacklist due to “corrupt business dealings” ascribed to him by the American administration, “by exploiting his close friendship with President Kabila.” Appearing on this dubious list means that Gertler’s bank accounts are frozen and American businesspeople and companies are banned from doing business with him.
In 2020, TheMarker and other news media around the world reported on the “Congo Files” affair, at the center of which were documents attesting to the systematic deposit of tens of millions of dollars and euros in cash at a branch of the Cameroonian Afriland First Bank in Kinshasa, the Congolese capital, by employees and associates of Gertler. The deposits began a month after the sanctions were imposed.
In an interview with TheMarker at the start of the year, the bank’s internal supervisors, Navy Malela and Gradi Koko, said they believed the deposits were part of a money laundering operation designed to circumvent the American sanctions. Both were subjected to a campaign of threats and abuse when the affair was exposed, following which Koko obtained refugee status in an European country and Malela is now an asylum seeker.
Gertler claimed the documents referring to the deposits were forgeries and also sued TheMarker in wake of the report. A Kinshasa court sentenced the two whistleblowers to death for stealing documents from the bank.
A meeting in the president’s residence
While Gertler is careful to avoid setting foot in England or America for fear of arrest, according to several of his associates, in Israel, the bribery suspect receives royal treatment. Bloomberg News reported that, near the end of the Trump administration, former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen personally intervened with U.S. officials to help Gertler obtain temporary relief from the American sanctions against him, and that former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer did the same.
TheMarker has learned that in the last weeks of former President Reuven Rivlin’s term, Gertler used several mediators to ask the outgoing president to help sway the American administration in his favor during Rivlin’s official visit to the United States which took place in late June.
Rivlin met with President Joe Biden, but his aides say that Gertler’s requests were not brought up in their meeting. Although Rivlin is not known to have taken any action to advance Gertler’s requests, the outgoing president did host the businessman in the president’s residence a few days after his return from the United States, apparently to update him.
By Gur Megiddo, Hagar Shezaf and Daniel Balint-Kurti, July 15, 2021, published on HaHaretz