Building an empire in Congo
“Nothing happens in Congo without Dan Gertler and Gertler can do nothing without playing the Israeli card,” said an advisor to an international mining conglomerate. But the net is tightening around the Israeli billionaire mining magnate who dominates the economic life of the resource rich but economically impoverished Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The Israeli mining magnate has been fundamental in the Kabila family’s control of the DRC over the past two decades. But the 42-year-old billionaire, who was the inspiration of for the movie Blood Diamond starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is now under international scrutiny over corruption.
Meanwhile, his main Congolese ally, President Joseph Kabila, is clinging on by his fingertips to power. The fragile situation in the Central African rentier state threatens to drag the Israeli security establishment into a renewed conflict to defend the billionaire’s interests.
There has always been a quid pro quo relationship between Gertler and Kinshasa that is heavily weighted to his corporate interests. His political influence in DRC is said to have begun shortly after his entry in 1997, when he shored up the government of Laurent Kabila by offering the late president $20 million to head off a rebellion in the east. The rebels posed a major risk to the regime as it was attempting to establish itself. In exchange for this help, his IDI Diamonds firm was given exclusive rights on the purchase of artisanal diamonds.
The monopoly was ended by Joseph Kabila following his father’s assassination in 2001. But a deal was struck in which Gertler paid $15 million for the rights to 88 percent of the output of national diamond producer La Société Minière de Bakwanga (MIBA). Gertler’s uncle, Shmuel Schnitzer, is honorary president of the Israel Diamond Exchange.
One Israeli Defense source has also claimed that Gertler paid the Kabila government $40 million for a former Mossad chief and ex-soldiers to arm, train and direct Congolese special forces to put down the brutal Rwandan-backed M23 rebel group in an operation with the United Nations in 2013. According to this source, the materiel was sourced from Israel and Russia.
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