The Israeli billionaire accused of looting Congo at the expense of its people

Bloomberg Markets Magazine: Dan Gertler’s bearded face lights up as he looks out the helicopter window. Below, an installation twice the size of Monaco rises from a clearing in the central African forest, where it transforms ore mined from the ochre earth into sheets of copper.

“Look at it, look at it,” the Israeli billionaire, 38, shouts through the headset above the thrum of rotors. “This is what life is all about,” Gertler says as the chopper lands in the scorching, dry afternoon heat of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Everyone comes with dreams and illusions and promises. Everyone wants quick deals. They don’t want to invest. We are real.”

Wearing a black suit by French fashion house Zilli, ritual white tassels hanging off both hips and a black-velvet yarmulke, Gertler hops out into the dust of Mutanda, a mine controlled by his partner, Glencore International Plc (GLEN), that holds cobalt and some of the highest-grade copper in the world, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its January issue.

He climbs into an air-conditioned Toyota Land Cruiser to tour the mine, tapping messages into one of his three BlackBerrys, whose batteries, like those of smartphones and laptops everywhere, often depend on cobalt to keep their charge.

Gertler has stakes in companies that control 9.6 percent of world cobalt production, based on U.S. Geological Survey data and company figures.

That’s just the beginning of Gertler’s influence in Congo, the largest country of sub-Saharan Africa, with the world’s richest deposits of cobalt and major reserves of copper, diamonds, gold, tin and coltan, an ore containing the metal tantalum, which is used in consumer electronics. His Gibraltar- registered Fleurette Properties Ltd. owns stakes in various Congolese mines through at least 60 holding companies in offshore tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands.

Gertler, whose grandfather co-founded Israel’s diamond exchange in 1947, arrived in Congo in 1997 seeking rough diamonds. The 23-year-old trader struck a deep friendship with Joseph Kabila, who then headed the Congolese army and today is the nation’s president. Since those early days, Gertler has invested in iron ore, gold, cobalt and copper as well as agriculture, oil and banking. In the process, he’s built up a net worth of at least $2.5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

He’s also acquired a roster of critics. Many of the government’s deals with Gertler deprive Congo’s 68 million people of badly needed funds, according to the London-based anticorruption group Global Witness and lawmakers from Congo and the U.K., the country’s second-biggest aid donor after the U.S.

“Dan Gertler is essentially looting Congo at the expense of its people,” says Jean Pierre Muteba, the head of a group of nongovernmental organizations that monitor the mining sector in Katanga province, where most of Congo’s copper is located.

“He has political connections, so state companies sell him mines for low prices and he sells them on for huge profits. That’s how he’s become a billionaire.”

In the eight months preceding November 2011 elections, in which Kabila won a second five-year term, companies affiliated with Gertler bought shares in five mining ventures from three state-owned firms, according to minutes of board meetings, company filings and documents published later. The state companies didn’t announce the sales.

In at least three of the cases, prices paid were below valuations of the projects made by analysts at Deutsche Bank AG, London-based Numis Securities Ltd. and Oriel Securities Ltd. and Atlanta-based consulting firm Golder Associates Inc.

Gertler denies that he purchased companies at below-market rates or that any of his deals have involved kickbacks.

“The lies are screaming to the heavens,” he says in his native Hebrew in a June interview, during three days Bloomberg reporters spent with him in Congo and Israel.

He returns from Congo to his home in Bnei Brak, an ultra- Orthodox suburb of Tel Aviv, each week to spend the Sabbath with his wife, Anat, and their nine children. [Continue reading...]

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