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Israeli Diamond Dealer Accused of Corrupt Deals in Congo Finds Ally in President Tshisekedi

The wealthy Israeli diamond dealer, Dan Gertler, was accused by the United States of over $1 billion worth of corrupt mining and oil deals in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2018. These deals undermined economic growth and the rule of law in the impoverished African nation. Dan Gertler has found an ally in his quest to have his name removed from the U.S. sanctions list, which prohibits companies with ties to the United States from doing business with him and freezes money he has in international banks. The surprising ally is President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Documents obtained by The New York Times show that Mr. Tshisekedi directly intervened with President Biden, asking that the Treasury Department roll back the punishment. The President of Congo lobbied to lift the sanctions after Mr. Gertler agreed to return an estimated $2 billion worth of mining and oil-drilling rights secured over the past two decades. The Congolese government agreed to pay Mr. Gertler’s companies $260 million and to help him lobby in Washington to have the sanctions revoked. The move would allow Congo to resell the mining rights to new investors.

Human rights activists say that the agreement is hardly a good deal for Congo and that Mr. Gertler is still entitled to collect potentially tens of millions of dollars a year in royalties on copper and cobalt mining in the country. Human rights groups sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, urging them to leave the sanctions in place.

“Far from paying an appropriate consequence for his actions, Mr. Gertler will keep collecting an average of $200,000 a day in royalties from these three highly lucrative mining projects for at least another decade,” the letter said. Mr. Gertler declined to respond on the record to written questions. Officials at the State and Treasury Departments and the White House also declined to comment on the pending petition to revoke the sanctions.

Congolese officials said they worried that with sanctions hanging over Mr. Gertler, the country was not entirely legally clear to sell the mining rights that belonged to him. Lifting the sanctions could help them attract international investors, they argued.

As climate issues have become a major part of the Biden administration’s agenda, U.S. officials have stepped up engagement with Congo, trying to challenge China’s dominant role as a foreign investor in the mining sector there in recent decades. Corruption remains a problem in Congo and a concern for the Biden administration. An audit last year showed hundreds of millions of dollars of missing revenues collected by Gécamines, the state-controlled copper and cobalt mining company that had multiple deals with Mr. Gertler over the years.

With his mining investments and philanthropy, Mr. Gertler is perhaps the most famous foreign investor in Congo, which he first visited in 1997 when he was 23 and selling rough diamonds. A few years after his arrival, he had negotiated the exclusive right to export the country’s diamonds. The U.S. government estimated that the lost revenues to Congo associated with Mr. Gertler’s deals from 2010 to 2012 were about $1.36 billion, or approximately half the nation’s entire health budget during that period.

Mr. Gertler has long disputed the allegations, arguing that he never paid any bribes and that his investments in Congo provided billions in taxes and thousands of jobs. Mr. Gertler made a previous attempt to have the sanctions lifted in 2019 during the Trump administration. He hired Alan Dershowitz, an ally of the president, as well as…

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