Press release | Feb. 26, 2021

Global Witness stands in solidarity with Congolese whistleblowers speaking out against alleged international money laundering network

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Today, two Congolese whistleblowers formerly employed at Afriland First Bank have revealed their identities and their stories publicly for the first time. Their testimonial and the documents they shared with the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF) and Global Witness formed the basis of an investigation carried out jointly and published in July 2020, Undermining Sanctions, and of several other pieces published in Bloomberg, Le Monde and Haaretz.

The two whistleblowers, Navy Malela and Gradi Koko, worked for several years at the auditing department of Afriland First Bank, the Congolese branch of a Cameroonian bank. Both of them noticed irregularities and report having seen US-sanctioned mining magnate Dan Gertler walking in the bank. They raised their concern internally before escaping the country and sharing evidence with PPLAAF and Global Witness, despite great personal risk. Both of them now live in exile in Europe with their families, after leaving the country following fear for their safety, according to a statement published by PPLAAF.

The documents provided by Malela and Koko helped Global Witness and PPLAAF reveal that controversial billionaire Dan Gertler appeared to have used a money laundering network stretching from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Europe and Israel to evade US sanctions against him, funnel millions of dollars abroad, and indirectly acquire new Congolese mining assets. Dan Gertler has denied all allegations of wrongdoing and any attempt to evade the US sanctions or break money laundering laws.

Today, additional documents provided by Malela and Koko to a group of journalists have led to further revelations. An article published by RFI, based on these documents, also suggest that the President of the Congolese Senate extracted $4.4 million from the Senate’s account around the time of the 2019 elections, and that companies with alleged connections to Hezbollah had been banking at Afriland First Bank. The Mail and Guardian also refers to enormous sums that flow into and out of the bank accounts of some of DRC’s political elite, including Zoe Kabila (brother of Joseph) and Richard Muyej, the governor of the copper-rich Lualaba Province.

Afriland First Bank’s lawyer, Eric Moutet, said in an RFI interview that Malela and Koko had been convicted and sentenced in front of a Congolese court to the death penalty. Global Witness takes these allegations extremely seriously and has been working closely with PPLAAF to determine the truth of these allegations. So far, NGOs and journalists have been unable to obtain a copy of any verdict, despite their attempts, including from the court that would have overseen the case.

“Global Witness stands in solidarity with Navy Malela and Gradi Koko, who decided to share information related to apparent financial misconduct they had seen with PPLAAF and Global Witness. They took this decision out of a great sense of duty and despite great risks to themselves and their families,” said Margot Mollat, Campaigner at Global Witness.

"If true, it is incredible that whistleblowers could be sentenced to death without having the chance to defend themselves, and that the DRC would not prosecute those who allow the money of the Congolese people to disappear," said Navy Malela in PPLAAF’s statement.

“Whatever the true position, it is deeply disturbing to see reports that a Congolese court could have tried two men without their knowledge and in their absence, let alone, convicted and sentenced them to death. We are concerned by the repressive and dangerous attempts to punish Congolese citizens standing up for transparency and accountability,” said Mollat.

“These brave whistleblowers have put their lives on the line to speak out and expose corruption and corporate abuse of power. This takes extraordinary courage and commitment to the public good,” added Mollat.

Efforts to target those exposing these corrupt practices has extended to Global Witness and PPLAAF. Since the publication of the first revelations in July 2020, both organisations have been subjected to abusive threats of legal claims and criminal complaints. Separately we and our media partners have faced relentless and apparently coordinated attacks by anonymous social media accounts.

As a result, on 15 December 2020, PPLAAF filed a complaint for obstructing freedom of expression and association, invasion of privacy and slanderous denunciation before the Paris public prosecutor's office. The complaint calls for a preliminary investigation into the apparent acts of reprisals against Global Witness and PPLAAF’s July report.

In December 2020, the US Treasury issued Gertler a special licence, which essentially allows him to resume his business with US entities and access frozen funds during a period of one year. The recent move by the Trump administration to ease sanctions against Dan Gertler comes as a massive blow to Congolese and international organisation fighting corruption in DRC, and to Koko and Malela, who risked everything to disclose documents suggesting sanctions evasion. Global Witness and its Congolese and international partners continues to call on the Biden administration to urgently review the circumstances that led to the easing of sanctions against Dan Gertler, and to reinstate them in full.

At the time of publication, journalists were unable to reach Richard Mujev, Zoe Kabila, and the President of the Congolese senate. Afriland First Bank provided a long response to RFI

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Credit for listing image: Liran Hutmacher/ PPLAAF