Amassing wealth as Kabila`s pal
December 16, 2012
Despite his wide smile and child-like enthusiasm, for his many critics, Dan Gertler has come to represent the personification of all that is wrong in the Western stampede for diamonds, copper and precious minerals in Africa. A stampede in which, critics say, wealthy Western businesspeople extract the precious resources and profits, leaving the locals with little but an empty hole in the ground.
For the 38-year-old Israeli billionaire has made his money thanks to a long friendship with Joseph Kabila, president of the mineral-rich Democratic Republic of Congo.
Kabila, who is facing a challenge to his authority in the east of the sprawling country, where most mining is done, has repeatedly and for many years sold Gertler rights to mine the DRC`s vast mineral wealth at allegedly knockdown prices. Gertler then sells them on to Western - often British - companies at a huge profit.
A spokesman for the NGO Global Witness says it holds serious concerns that corrupt Congolese officials could be benefiting from such deals.
Meanwhile, poverty in Congo worsens, with 70 percent of the population said to be malnourished and vast areas of the country still without reliable electricity or running water.
Gertler, who spends most of his week in the DRC before flying back to his family in Israel to spend Sabbath with his wife and nine children, thinks he is doing nothing but good for the country`s people.
He points to his philanthropy and, in an interview with Bloomberg Markets magazine last week, even declared: “I should get a Nobel Prize.”
But officials at the International Monetary Fund seem to take a different view. Last week, the IMF stopped a $500 million (R4 322m) loan to the DRC due to its concerns over the way Joseph Kabila`s government had sold minerals to a company said to be controlled by Gertler.
A few days later, his biggest partner in the DRC, London Stock Exchange-listed mining company Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation, severed its relationship with him.
Increasingly, opposition politicians, NGOs and other critics are claiming Gertler`s grip on the country`s mineral wealth is starting to slip.
“Western companies don`t want to do business with him any more. He`s over,” one opposition activist told The Independent.
But just how did this young businessman come to gain such a powerful hold over the president of one of the biggest and most troubled nations on the planet?
For the answer, we must return to the newly renamed Democratic Republic of Congo of 1997. The US-backed dictator Mobutu Sese Seko has just been ousted from his three-decade reign.
Although he calls himself president, Mobutu`s nemesis, Laurent Kabila, has still not grappled full control of the country. He desperately needs funds to continue his push. Enter Dan Gertler.
At just 23, the diamond trader had a taste for adventure and an eye for a deal. Having learnt the trade at the feet of his father and grandfather, he had been buying diamonds in war-torn Angola and Liberia, and flying them to the wealthy trading centres of the US, Israel and India. The new Congo must have seemed too good a chance to miss.
Shortly after he arrived in Kinshasa, he secured an introduction to Laurent Kabila`s son by the city`s chief rabbi.
Also in his 20s, Joseph Kabila had recently been made the leader of his father`s army. Gertler was taking an increasingly big role in the family diamond empire. The unlikely duo hit it off instantly.
Joseph Kabila soon introduced Gertler to his father, who recognised in the rich Israeli a quick way to fund his war. According to Gertler, Laurent made him an offer: get me $20m in cash to fund my fight, and I give you a monopoly over Congo`s diamond sales.
Thanks to Gertler`s wealthy connections and business clout, he raised the money within a few days, putting it into DRC`s central bank account in Switzerland.
As his uncle, Shmuel Schnitzer, told Bloomberg Markets: “The guy has guts. This is the basic thing about him.”
To say Gertler backed the right horse is an understatement. Although Laurent was assassinated by a bodyguard in 2001 and the diamond monopoly was later rescinded, Gertler`s influence on Joseph also proved incredibly lucrative as he took over from his father.
Today, largely thanks to the exploitation of the DRC`s huge mineral rights, Gertler is one of the richest men in the world, with a fortune of more than $2bn.
Global Witness has been dogged in its criticism of Gertler`s business dealings, painstakingly assembling paperwork and following the money in his complex transactions. More often than not, the money trail ends in his offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands.
Now, as part of its deal to sever relations with Gertler, the London-listed ENRC has bought him out of its mining joint venture. As ever, Gertler appears to be trousering a substantial profit. ENRC is paying him $550m for his half of the project, having paid him only $175m for its 50 percent stake in 2010.
Unsurprisingly, Global Witness is concerned. “We oppose this very strongly,” said spokesman Daniel Balint-Kurti. “It carries with it a very significant risk of corruption. This is exactly the kind of deal we`ve been complaining about.”
There are some who hope the IMF`s decision will put enough pressure on the DRC government to change its ways. Some say it is likely that other aid programmes, including those from the UK, will now be put under review until matters improve. Specifically, the IMF took its stark action because of the failure of the Kabila government to provide adequate explanation of a mining sale it made to Straker, a company the sources claim is related to Gertler. The IMF insists sales of the Congo people`s assets should be done openly and transparently.
For his part, Gertler declares this sort of openness is up to the government, not him: “We`re a private company. Why should we announce?” he says. “The lies are screaming to the heavens.”
In the meantime, as millions of dollars of minerals are shipped out of the DRC every day, the country remains one of the world`s poorest.
© 2012 Independent Newspapers (Pty) Ltd
Diamond monopoly hands obscure Israeli firm the key to Congo`s economy
By BRUCE STANLEY
March 18, 2001
Gertler, whose grandfather co-founded Israel`s diamond exchange in 1947, arrived in Congo in 1997 seeking rough diamonds. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
RAMAT GAN, Israel (AP) - Diamond traders still talk about how DanGertler, in his mid-20s, managed to capture exclusive rights to Congo`s production. Not all the talk is pretty.
Some point to signs that Gertler, a third-generation trader, may have clinched the deal - potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year - by arranging military training for the army of Congo`s recently assassinated president, Laurent Kabila.
Some also contend he promised profits to Congo that haven`t materialized and that he has unfairly exploited his monopoly.
Congo`s new government, run by Kabila`s son, appears to agree, and some Congolese officials are seeking a way out of the contract.
The dispute provides a rare window on the enormously lucrative but shadowy business of finding and buying the coarse lumps of carbon that, once cut and polished to crystalline brilliance, become the world`s most coveted jewels.
It is unfolding amid rising global concern about the role so-called “blood diamonds” play in financing or prolonging African wars, many of which have been tied to government corruption in managing the continent`s mineral riches.
Gertler, now 27, argues that the 18-month contract, signed last summer, has been as good for Congo as it has been for him. He calls the allegations against him baseless, blaming jealous competitors who suddenly found themselves cut off from the African country`s vast diamond wealth.
“They cannot understand how such a young guy got a monopoly,” he said in an interview at his offices in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan, the heart of the Israeli diamond industry.
Getting at the truth often is harder than discerning the sparkle in one of the honey-colored nuggets that are Gertler`s stock in trade.
Kabila, a portly ex-Marxist and career guerrilla, took control of Africa`s third-largest country in 1997 at the head of a rebel army backed by Uganda and Rwanda. He received some of his financing by signing contracts with mineral companies during his eight-month march across the country, formerly known as Zaire.
Gertler, with boyish looks and a fondness for sacred Jewish texts, entered the diamond business after a stint in the Israeli army. He says he learned all he knows from his grandfather, Moshe Schnitzer, now 80 and chairman of the guild that oversees Israel`s diamond industry. An uncle, Shmuel Schnitzer, is president of the Israel Diamond Exchange, one of the world`s leading trading centers.
Gertler says he impressed Kabila`s government with his credentials.
“They saw that I`m serious,” he said. “They checked up on me and saw that I have a good company and that I am someone they could trust.”
Gertler could have joined the family`s polished diamond business, but instead he struck out on his own as a trader in unpolished, or rough, stones.
The task of securing reliable supplies of rough diamonds is a secretive and sometimes cutthroat business that belies the refined beauty of the finished product, industry sources say.
Many trading companies are family-owned and based in one of the diamond industry`s five hubs: Israel, Belgium, Russia, India and the United States. Buyers travel to some of the world`s most politically unstable and volatile regions to haggle with leaders not known for their respect for written contracts.
Rough diamonds are sold to manufacturers that cut and polish them into gem-quality stones. Israel buys 50 percent of the world`s rough production and exports two-thirds of its polished diamonds to the United States.
Keen for his own source of “rough”, Gertler and his assistants set their sights on Congo, one of the world`s largest producers. Its capital, Kinshasa, was already home to more than a dozen buying offices for rough diamonds.
“I myself certainly didn`t have any knowledge of them before they came on the scene last year,” said Tim Weekes, spokesman for the Diamond Trading Co., a London-based marketing arm for rough diamonds for the De Beers cartel. Weekes worked for five years for De Beers in Kinshasa.
When Gertler arrived, Kabila was embroiled in Africa`s biggest civil war and he desperately needed cash to finance it. Gertler`s company, International Diamond Industries, sweetened the deal by offering an undisclosed upfront payment.
Gertler said other diamond traders there had been “undervaluing” their stones and “cheating” the Congolese government under a competitive buying arrangement.
As Congo`s civil war raged, he spent eight months lobbying Kabila, eventually convincing him that a monopoly under IDI`s control would be more fruitful.
“I proved to the government that they were losing lots of money on diamonds,” Gertler said. He made what he calls a “down payment” and Kabila awarded him exclusive rights.
Whatever sum Gertler paid - analysts` estimates range from $2 million to $20 million - it proved a good investment. Now, more than a month after Kabila was gunned down by a bodyguard, Gertler retains rights to a flow of diamonds that could be worth $600 million or more a year.
Details of the arrangement remain secret, but Kabila`s special investments adviser, Nkere Ntanda Nkingi, said in September it included an understanding that Israeli military experts would help train a Congolese anti-smuggling force. The government formally denied his comments the very next day, and Nkingi is now in the custody of Congolese authorities for reasons that haven`t been made public.
The Israeli military has a history of involvement in Congo. Israeli advisers helped train security forces in the country when it was known as Zaire, during the despotic rule of Kabila`s predecessor, Mobutu Sese Seko. Gertler insisted he agreed merely to give Kabila the names of some Israeli security experts and said nothing ever came of the information.
He also denied suggestions by some of his competitors that he encroached on Angolan territory to shop for diamonds and that he possibly bought stones from UNITA, the rebel group waging a 25-year-old war against the Angolan government.
Diamonds accounted for 68 percent of Congo`s official export earnings in 1999, and a lot of people want a piece of the business - even the country`s allies. The Namibian government admitted last month for the first time that it operates a diamond mine in Congo, something it had long denied.
Namibia, along with Zimbabwe and Angola, sent troops to Congo to support the Kabila government in the civil war that began in August 1998. Rwanda and Uganda back the insurgents, who themselves have earned an estimated $55 million annually from diamonds mined in areas they control.
The global trade in polished diamonds, estimated to be worth $13.5 billion at wholesale prices, has been tarnished by revelations that rebel groups in Sierra Leone and Angola have bought arms through diamond sales and then committed atrocities in their fights against elected governments.
Congolese rebels are believed to be exporting their stones eastward through Uganda and Rwanda. Gertler denied that any conflict diamonds have found their way into his supplies, which are routed westward toward Kinshasa.
Gertler contends his contract has benefitted Congo by generating higher tax revenue, but others dispute the claim.
Douglas Mason, a Congo analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit in London, calls the Gettler-Kabila deal “disastrous,” saying the monopoly has generated only a fraction of the hard currency that it pledged to earn for Congo.
“It used to be a semi-competitive situation,” Mason said. “Right now, IDI can pay whatever it wants.”
Competitors claim that IDI is cherrypicking the best Congolese diamonds and offering below-market prices for the rest, frustrating many producers who then smuggle their stones across the border for sale in the neighboring Republic of Congo.
Gertler acknowledges that smuggling occurs, but attributes it to the slightly higher prices that buyers in the Republic of Congo, which produces few diamonds of its own, can offer because they don`t pay taxes like he does.
Discontent among some diamond producers in Congo may have emboldened Kabila`s enemies to act against him.
After Kabila`s assassination, Congolese soldiers detained 11 Lebanese citizens in Kinshasa and later killed some of them, government officials say. There are some 1,000 Lebanese living in the capital, and many are active in Congo`s diamond trade. Justice Minister Mwenza Kongolo said the soldiers had heard that some Lebanese were involved in Kabila`s death, although the occupations of those killed is not clear.
With Kabila`s son, Joseph Kabila, now taking steps to end the conflict in Congo, the prospects for peace have raised Gertler`s hopes of expanding his supply sources to include eastern and northern territories now held by rebels.
But in his first speech as president, Joseph Kabila said he wants to liberalize Congo`s diamond industry. Although short on details, the speech implied a threat to Gertler`s privileged position.
Congo`s deputy minister for mines, Ambroise Kawaya Swana, was more specific: “I can`t give my own opinion, but we are trying to find our way out from our contract with IDI,” he said in Kinshasa.
Swana said there were clear signs that more +Congo+ +diamonds+ were being smuggled out of the country, depriving it of valuable revenue. Shipments of rough diamonds from Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of Congo, to buyers in Belgium have soared from $1.2 million a month beforeGertler`s monopoly to $25 million a month, he said.
Gertler`s buying rights are to expire in January, but he exudes confidence. “I`m sure the contract is going to be extended,” he said.
IDI operates at least a dozen storefront offices in Kinshasa, each with a company sign emblazoned with a large diamond. From the street outside, many seem to consist of no more than a few plastic chairs and a desk in the lobby.
At his office in Ramat Gan, Gertler`s desk is crowded with the tools of his trade: tiny metal scoops for sifting through diamonds, calipers for measuring them, a folded magnifying glass, a set of electronic scales.
The walls are adorned with portraits of prominent rabbis, and Jewish holy books line a set of shelves. A larger-than-life photograph ofGertler and his grandfather hangs on a wall behind his desk.
Gertler described plans to enlarge his supply network to Canada and other countries, but Congo remains central to his empire. He maintains that his contract is legally binding, even though he sealed it with the now-dead Laurent Kabila.
“I didn`t make the deal with him,” Gertler said with a smile. “I made it with the government.”
© Copyright 2001. The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.
Israeli firm gets Congo diamond marketing rights
August 03, 2000
Gertler, left, whose love affair with Congo began in 1997, when the country was one of the top five producers of diamonds in the world, tours a Katanga Mining Ltd. mine Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
TEL AVIV, Aug 3 (Reuters) - The Democratic Republic of the Congo has awarded exclusive marketing rights for its rough diamonds to Israel`s IDI Diamonds, in a deal worth $600 million-$700 million a year, IDI said in a statement on Thursday. The Congolese government said the move was aimed at optimising government revenues and at guaranteeing that its exports are free from illicit “conflict diamonds”.
“This is the optimum way for the Congo diamond production to be marketed in a transparent manner that will inspire trust and confidence in the country`s certificate of origin, which will accompany each and every parcel to be exported by IDI,” Congo`s interim Minister of Mines Bishikwabo Tshubaka said in the statement.
This follows a similar arrangement reached earlier this year that gave Lev Leviev, an Israeli businessman of Russian origin, exclusive rights to market Angolan rough diamonds.
Conflict diamonds have been blamed for funding some of Africa`s most savage rebel wars, which have left hundreds of thousands dead and mutilated in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
IDI is headed by 26-year-old diamond merchant Dan Gertler, a grandson of Moshe Schnitzer, chairman of the Israel Diamond Institute. He is also the nephew of Shmuel Schnitzer, the president of Israel`s Diamond Exchange.
The statement said most of the rough diamonds will be sold on the Israeli market. Until now, most of Israel`s rough supplies originated from De Beers or from middlemen in Belgium.
Gertler said his group was in contact with Canadian producers as well.
“We have the infrastructure to market the diamonds in Ramat Gan (Israel), Mumbai and Antwerp and we certainly want to continue to provide to those companies whose manufacturing facilities depend on the continual supply of the Congo goods,” Gertler said in the statement.
Congo will revoke all existing diamond buying and exporting licences.
The Congolese government said it would not be part of the marketing company but would benefit through licence fees, taxation and royalties.
© 2000 Reuters Limited
Congo: Unpublished Report On War Contracts May Rock President
November 02, 2005
Nov 01, 2005 (SouthScan/All Africa Global Media) -- The commission of enquiry set up last year by the Congolese national assembly to review all the contracts signed by the Congolese state during the two wars, 1996-1997 and 1998-2003, handed its final report in May to the national assembly chairman, Olivier Kamitatu. But since then nothing has happened and Kamitatu is now being accused of deliberately blocking publication of the report.
`Le Phare` daily says that the “ultra-sensitivity” of the report`s content may be the reason. Parliamentary sources say the leaders of the transitional government and specifically the president and the vice-presidents are accused in the report and any disclosure may be extremely damaging for them in the forthcoming electoral campaign, the paper claims.
According to Le Phare the MPs can request the report from the bureau of the National Assembly, but members of President Joseph Kabila`s `People`s Party for Reconstruction and Development` are clearly not enthusiastic, while other MPs, including those in civil society organisations who are not represented in the club of five who rule the country - the president and the four vice-presidents - have their own reasons for seeking to postpone publication.
Le Phare suggests that, in fact, all MPs are implicated because they owe Kabila a US$9,000 cash advance on the end-of-term bonus that helped them purchase brand new Nissan 4x4s, nicknamed `Merci Kabila` on the Kinshasa streets.
This purchase is so unpoPular that according to another paper, `La Tempete des Tropiques`, numbers of these cars have already been damaged by crowds in Kinshasa and in the Bas-Congo province. The purchase took place in the unfortunate context of strikes for salary hikes and arrears that started at the beginning of September in the education sector and in the public administration.
But `Le Phare` believes there are other reasons for Olivier Kamitatu`s not releasing the report. Although Kamitatu is considered the second in command in his `Movement of Liberation of Congo` (MLC) after the vice-president in charge of economic affairs, Jean-Pierre Bemba, over the last few months he has been seen as moving closer to Kabila, who might appoint him as prime minister if he wins the presidential election, scheduled before June 2006.
Obviously in such circumstances Kamitatu has little interest in damaging his potential patron`s reputation.
There have been also persistent rumours that Kabila helped Kamitatu to purchase a new villa last year and that the latter is not in a position to undermine someone who could at any time give evidence of this generosity to an official adversary.
MRB has not yet seen the unpublished report but spoke several times to the chairman of the war contracts commission, Christophe Lutundula Apala who is also the leader of the `Movement for Solidarity, Democracy and Development` (MSDD). He told MRB in April that he had been intimidated and threatened by members of the presidential entourage and by officials in companies investigated by the commission.
We have learned that the commission investigated the Gecamines copper and mining parastatal, the Kababankola Mining Company (KMC), a joint venture in which the Zimbabwean tycoon John Bredenkamp has a 80 percent stake through his firm Tremalt Ltd, and Gecamines the remaining 20 percent.
Other contracts with Zimbabwe-linked interests such as Sengamines were also under scrutiny. The Belgian company Forrest, whose CEO was appointed for two years simultaneously with Gecamines` CEO, was also visited by the MPs.
The Israeli diamond dealer Dan Gertler who secured a contract guaranteeing exclusivity for the marketing of the DRC`s diamond production and was later involved in another contract which provided a company called Emaxon with the privilege of buying at a fixed price most of the output of the 80% state-owned MIBA diamond mining company, was also investigated.
The Commission also reviewed the electricity supply contracts for the sale of cheap electricity signed by the Congo`s Societe Nationale d`Electricite and the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority and Congo-Brazzaville`s SNE company.
The findings of the commission of inquiry are partly reflected in the analysis made by Lutundula about the mismanagement of his country, during a seminar organised by the South African Institute for Global Dialogue, on May 30 and 31.
Lutundula said then that the state property was sold out through “leonine contracts” for the personal benefit of relatives of the current rulers, of godfathers and of foreign associates. He also described the current economic environment that perpetuates the looting of his country`s riches and the practices of the current rulers.
US$8m earmarked for the pay of the military and the war budget for the Kivus (over $30m) was reportedly embezzled without any consequence for the perpetrators. Likewise, a minister, a CEO and a presidential adviser shared between themselves a $3m commission for the reimbursement of a $48m debt owed to the DRC`s electricity company SNEL by its Congo-Brazzaville equivalent which was eventually slashed to only $32m.
Lutundula also blamed the president and the vice-presidents for having exceeded by 300 percent the expenditure ceiling. Reportedly 57 percent of public expenditures are not committed through the correct procedures.
He also accused the president and the vice-presidents of having undertaken many trips abroad with very large ministerial delegations in search of contracts and support for the forthcoming elections.
He blamed the vice-presidents for spending at least $200,000 per month each and for failing to pay customs duties on important goods.
There should be safeguards to enable the suspension of any important commitment on public expenditures or the management of the public assets before the elections, Lutundula said.
© 2005 AllAfrica, All Rights Reserved