Press release | Oct. 19, 2016

Key individuals named in Global Witness report on illegal gold trade in eastern Congo detained following national mining fraud commission investigation

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Global Witness welcomes the positive steps taken by Congo’s national Mines Ministry and the national commission against mining sector fraud (CNLFM), but remains concerned about threats and intimidation of local civil society and journalists who support reform of South Kivu’s minerals sector.

Four individuals have been detained in Kinshasa in the aftermath of an independent investigation led by the CNLFM to verify the allegations Global Witness made in its recent report on a chaotic gold boom in South Kivu. The report, River of Gold, details the links between armed groups, the artisanal gold trade and public officials in Shabunda territory, South Kivu. The individuals detained include Franck Menard, a French national and representative of a private Chinese company that operated illegally during the gold boom and John Tshonga, the head of South Kivu’s artisanal mining agency SAESSCAM.

While Global Witness welcomes the actions taken by the national Mines Ministry and the CNLFM towards investigating the illegalities of Shabunda’s gold boom, the organisation is very concerned about recent threats to civil society and journalists in South Kivu. Global Witness has also received reports of third party interference in the proceedings relating to the four detained in Kinshasa. Shortly after the publication of River of Gold, South Kivu’s Mines Minister issued a highly restrictive new regulation prohibiting civil society’s access to mine sites without special consent. This was subsequently lifted following demands from civil society and the national Mines Ministry.

Sophia Pickles, senior campaigner at Global Witness said: “We congratulate the national Mines Ministry and the CNLFM for the efficiency and effectiveness with which they reacted to the facts laid out in River of Gold. We welcome this follow-up investigation and the questioning of key individuals said to be involved in illegal activities linked to Shabunda’s gold boom. We look forward to receiving a copy of the CNLFM’s final report, which should be made public.”

“The case must now be followed-up with due attention and without interference from third parties,” Pickles continued. “Threats and intimidation to civil society linked to this case must be immediately dropped. All individuals implicated must be given the right to a free and fair trial, and legal representation.”

River of Gold has been welcomed by the local population and civil society groups in South Kivu, local leaders and national civil society, many of whom have raised the alarm about chaos in Shabunda since 2014. Local civil society have expressed their gratitude to the national Mines Ministry for the attention it has granted the issue.

“Civil society have said that, with affirmed knowledge of their rights, they feel better placed and more confident in their capacity to hold wrongdoers to account,” Pickles added.

The four individuals currently detained in Kinshasa are: 

  • Franck Menard, a French national and a representative of Kun Hou Mining, a private Chinese-owned company that Global Witness revealed had distributed $4,000 and at least two AK47s to armed groups in Shabunda territory. Global Witness’ attempts to contact Franck Menard were unsuccessful.
  • John Tshonga, the head of the artisanal mining agency SAESSCAM. Evidence obtained by Global Witness showed that SAESSCAM officials appeared to collaborate with the armed men and illegally profit from the gold boom. Mr Tshonga has denied that agents of his organisation were involved in any such activities. 
  • Michel Liete Watuta, head of South Kivu’s mining division which failed to keep accurate records of South Kivu’s gold exports during the boom.
  • Adalbert Murhi Mubalama, former provincial minister of mines in South Kivu under whose purview the Shabunda gold boom unfolded.

They are being questioned by Congo’s intelligence agency, the ANR, which will subsequently decide whether they will be released or formally arrested, according to Global Witness’ sources. The CNLFM travelled to South Kivu in mid-September 2016 and spent ten days meeting local stakeholders and listening to their observations and grievances. In addition to detaining the four individuals named above, it seized one of the gold mining dredges belonging to Kun Hou Mining.

Congo’s national Mines Minister has previously called for a thorough ‘clean-up’ of the artisanal mining sector in South Kivu and for the prosecution of provincial mining officials who are found to have acted illegally, in response to Global Witness’ River of Gold report.

River of Gold, released in July 2016, revealed how armed groups received cash and arms from a private Chinese mining company and made up to $25,000 per month through extorting local miners during a recent gold boom in Shabunda territory, South Kivu. The report also revealed that in just one year up to $17 million of gold produced by the company, Kun Hou Mining, went missing, likely smuggled out of Congo into international supply chains. In the report Global Witness calls upon the mining authorities to uphold national law and international standards on management of the artisanal gold sector, and to sanction those in breach.



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