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Hezbollah and Israel’s Richest Man Are Both Received into the Congo Bank

(Bloomberg) – 2018 was a good year for Afriland First Group SA, a Swiss-based company that oversees a network of banks across Africa. In his opening comments for this year’s annual report, Paul Fokam, group leader and one of Cameroon’s richest men, highlighted “the challenges of being ethical and obedient while creating value.” He asks readers to remember that “we are on a battlefield where only vigilance, flexibility and persistence can ensure continued victory.” Little is mentioned in the 83-page report from one of the group’s star players, its unit in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a large central African country rich in natural resources including diamonds, cobalt and copper. While deposits across Afriland subsidiaries increased 17%, a PwC audit seen by Bloomberg shows that in Congo, accounts swelled nearly fivefold that year to $ 279 million, accounting for more than a tenth of the group’s total at the time. , and will continue to destroy the lives of the two employees who provided information to anti-corruption organizations in Europe about where the money came from. Gradi Koko Lobanga, former head of the unit’s internal audit division, and Navy Malela Mawani, its financial controller, have decided to go public with charges to combat claims they faked data. Both have fled Congo and sought asylum in Europe. New files shared by the two men with the Paris-based Platform for the Protection of African Whistleblowers, known as Pplaaf, and several media including Bloomberg, show that Afriland Congo has carved a niche for itself in doing business with risky clients, including the Israeli billionaire. Dan Gertler. The documents cover banking operations in Afriland between late 2017 and early 2019, and show at least seven sanctioned individuals and companies held accounts at the bank, albeit some with small amounts of money in them. The company in Switzerland did not respond to repeated requests for comment. There is an account held by a company that the US government says is believed to be a subsidiary of a sanctioned company linked to Lebanese Hezbollah financiers, which the US considers a terrorist organization, and another that was blacklisted for the same reason in December 2019. Media offices Hezbollah did not answer two phone calls seeking comment about the group’s activities in Congo. Another North Korean account is linked to a North Korean-owned statue maker. Concern that North Korea is using sculpture companies to help fund its weapons program led the United Nations, the US and the European Union to target the practice. A UN panel of experts on North Korea recommended this month that the Security Council sanction the two Congolese companies. its owners, Mister Hwa Song and Hwang Kil Su, according to excerpts from reports shared with Bloomberg. An email and phone call to their company, Congo Aconde SARL, went unanswered, but other records show large amounts of money coming through the personal accounts of Congolese politicians, but the largest by far is an account that appears to be linked to Gertler, one of Israel’s richest men. man, a burly billionaire in his mid-40s with a history of controversy in Congo. In December 2017, the US sanctioned Gertler for alleged corruption in mining and oil transactions. The Treasury Department accused him of acting as an intermediary between multinational and state companies and establishing the company on behalf of former Congolese President Joseph Kabila, all of which Gertler denies. A year after he was sanctioned, deposits by companies and individuals linked to Gertler grew to more than a third of total deposits in Afriland Congo, according to a PwC audit. “It’s quite strange that someone who was just sanctioned by the United States started coming to the bank,” said Koko, one of the whistleblowers, in an interview at a law firm in Paris last week. Three emails since February 22 to Afriland’s units in Cameroon and Congo, its headquarters in Switzerland, and to the CEO and deputy chief executive of Afriland Congo, went unanswered. A spokesman for Afriland Cameroon did not answer when called by Bloomberg. A person who picked up the phone at the Swiss parent company on Friday said the email address was not working and asked Bloomberg to send a letter. He refused to provide any other contact information for Fokam, the group leader. The Congolese unit previously told Global Witness and Pplaaf that they had not violated any regulations or assisted their customers in evading US sanctions. First Bonus Transaction costs in Afriland soared with new businesses in 2018, said Malela, a former financial supervisor who started working at the bank 12 years ago. “We were never given a bonus at the end of the year,” he said. At that time, Koko had fled to Europe. As an internal auditor, he oversees all bank accounts and acknowledges the risks Afriland is taking. Two months after Gertler was sanctioned, Koko wrote a letter warning the director of a Congolese subsidiary that servicing accounts for companies linked to Gertler as well as others linked to Zoe Kabila, the president’s brother at the time, could result in penalties or sanctions for banks. deviations are likely to disobey banks from both a national and international point of view, ”Koko wrote. He recommended the bank block all accounts associated with the two men and report them to the relevant authorities. Zoe Kabila did not respond to four emails seeking comment. The reaction of Afriland officials to Koko’s concerns was swift, but not what he wanted. Instead of investigating the accounts, he said one of the bank directors was intimidating him. Threats of Violence “He said to me, ‘These people are not just anyone,’ and that they can shoot me when I leave the bank,” said Koko. The threats later turned violent, he said, refusing to provide further details. In a statement given by a Gertler spokesman on Friday in response to the latest allegations, Gertler said his claims were “completely false.” He said the two bank employees were “victims” of “gruesome behavior” by anti-corruption organizations, saying they had been co-opted into illegal acts including stealing confidential bank data about him, and falsifying documents. “They can’t do it. Return to their homeland, their lives have been ruined by the reckless decision making of Global Witness and Pplaaf,” Gertler said of the whistleblowers. The bankers’ previous disclosures were published by Bloomberg in July alongside reports by Global Witness and Pplaaf. The report outlines a network of individuals and companies that appear to be using Afriland to move money on Gertler’s behalf. Gertler denies any wrongdoing and denies any notion that he avoided sanctions, some of which were recently scaled back. Afriland’s lawyers said Koko and Malela stole and falsified data from banks Friland’s Death Penalty identified Koko and Malela after initial reports in July and filed criminal charges against them in Congo’s capital, Kinshasa. Afriland’s lawyer, Eric Moutet, said on Thursday that a court last year found the two men guilty over pe theft, forgery, and violating bank secrecy. It also punishes them for criminal association, charges that carry the death penalty. The Paris-based lawyer said the judge gave the harshest sentence because the defendant did not appear in court. The decision will set a “sad precedent” that will deter future whistleblowers, Nick Elebe, a Congolese lawyer and director for the Open Society Initiative for South Africa, said Friday. A Congolese court should investigate the allegations, which, if confirmed, “could undermine the entire banking system, while at the same time posing a risk to the country’s economy and public savings,” he said. Although the death penalty is still on the Congolese statute books, no executions have been carried out in the country since 2003. When Koko fled, Malela decided to stay behind, copying more documents and sending them to his former European counterparts. Finally, he too left the country before Pplaaf and Global Witness published their joint report last year. Koko received asylum in Europe in 2019, while Malela’s application is still pending. Gertler’s representatives and one person named in the Global Witness and Pplaaf reports said they had sued the two organizations for defamation. Global Witness and Pplaaf said they had not seen a copy of the lawsuit. “We deny these allegations, and we support our sources and our investigations,” the two organizations said on Friday. Suspension of Sanctions Australia also filed a complaint against the two organizations in a court in Paris in early July, a day before the report was published. Global Witness and Pplaaf said in their report that they could not prove that the individual network and bank companies were being used to evade US sanctions and did not accuse criminal behavior. On January 15, in the final days of the Trump administration, the US Treasury reduced sanctions against Gertler and his company through January 2022 without explanation. Bloomberg has reported that the Biden administration is likely to reverse that decision. Gertler said in an emailed statement that the reprieve was based on his commitment “to comply with the terms and conditions” set by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. Both Malela and Koko want to stay in banking and say they know about other potential whistleblowers at the Congolese banks. “The things we criticize are more important than any fears we might have,” said Koko. “So we will continue to condemn actions that are contrary to the public interest despite fears.” For more articles like this one, please visit us at Subscribe now to stay on the cutting edge with the most trusted source of business news. © 2021 Bloomberg LP

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