Monday, December 10, 2012

Gertler's Congo

Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler has been accused of making most of his $2.5bn fortune from "looting Congo at the expense of its people" which remains at the foot of the UN's development index. Most of Congo's 68m population do not have access to electricity or running water, and one in five children die before their fifth birthday. The nation's per capita income is $280 – below the level it was at when the country, formerly known as Zaire, gained independence from Belgium in 1960.

Gertler, who normally avoids the public eye, declared in an interview "I should get a Nobel prize. They need people like us, who come and put billions in the ground. Without this, the resources are worth nothing."

Mining company Eurasian Natural Resources Company (ENRC) has spent $550m (£340m) buying itself out of a Congo copper-mining partnership with Gertler. ENRC ended its relationship with Gertler this weekend after mounting pressure from politicians, investors and campaign groups demanding that it clean up its reputation and be more transparent in demonstrating how local people benefit from its activities. Gertler used his close relationship with the government to secure preferential treatment, and the Serious Fraud Office has been called on to investigate. British MPs are also demanding that the UK slash aid spending to Congo because the country has failed to show that profits from its mines are benefiting local people. The International Monetary Fund froze loans to Congo because the government refused to publish details of a deal between a state-owned mining firm and companies said to be linked to Gertler.

The transparency campaign group Global Witness, which has criticised ENRC for using Congo partners that work with offshore companies which they claim could be benefiting corrupt local politicians, said: "Instead of the Congolese state benefiting from the sales of the country's most valuable mines, the bulk of the money is going to secretive companies in offshore countries, mainly in the British Virgin Islands. "Mr Gertler and the FTSE 100 companies partnering up with him should publish full details of their dealings in the Congo, including the names of the offshore companies' beneficiaries. The public should be assured that these beneficiaries do not include corrupt Congolese officials".

Gertler said it was the Congolese government's role to disclose the deals, not his. "We're a private company. Why should we announce?"

No comments: