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France/DRC: Two Congolese whistleblowers sue Gabonese bank in France

(Paris, February 13th, 2019) – Whistleblowers Jean-Jacques Lumumba and Guylain Luwere brought an action before the French courts against the BGFI and its Congolese subsidiary, which is headed by relatives of former President Joseph Kabila, said today the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF). The two bankers had reported to their superiors the embezzlement of public funds and the existence of accounts related to the financing of terrorism. After facing retaliation, they were forced to go into exile with their families.

The whistleblowers are suing the BGFI for all the damages suffered as a result of the bank’s behavior.

Jean-Jacque Lumumba is the grand-nephew of Congo’s independence leader Patrice Lumumba. In 2012, Lumumba started serving as the head of the credit department at the DRC BGFI Bank. In 2016, Lumumba noticed suspicious transactions of dozens of millions of dollars between BGFIBank RDC, led by relatives of former President Joseph Kabila, and companies, also controlled by members of the president’s inner circle. A few months later, Lumumba internally alerted his superiors. Threatened with a firearm by the managing director of the bank, and fearing for his life, Lumumba fled his homeland with his family and bravely revealed the bank’s actions.

I blew the whistle for the honor of our profession of bankers, for the sake of our country,” said Jean-Jacques Lumumba. “I did it for this new generation who wants to build the Rule of Law in the DRC and no longer be held hostage by the greed of its leaders.

Guylain Luwere had been working at the BGFIBank RDC since 2015 as an agent for management control. While serving in this position, he warned his superiors that expenses made by the bank violated its legal and internal procedures. Luwere also warned the bank about the existence of large bank deposits belonging to companies linked to a corporate network sanctioned by the US Treasury for financing terrorism. First threatened by members of his hierarchy, he and his wife were then physically attacked in the street. As a result of these threats, Guylain Luwere and his wife left DRC to go into European exile.

We should never have been threatened, assaulted, brutalized for doing what we thought was right,” said Guylain Luwere. “We have been forced into exile, our families are suffering, we deserve to have our rights acknowledged by our former employer.

The International Gabonese and French Bank (BGFI Holding Corporation SA) is a bank whose parent company is based in Libreville, Gabon. It brands itself on its website as “Central Africa’s first bank”. It has subsidiaries in Gabon, The Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Equatorial Guinea, Benin, Senegal, DRC, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and France.

In September 2010, BGFI Holding opened a subsidiary in the DRC, BGFIBank RDC. According to American newspaper Bloomberg, during the deeds, the sister of former head of state Joseph Kabila was allegedly a shareholder of the Congolese subsidiary to 40%. The rest of the shares were allegedly held by BGFI Holding. The BGFIBank DRC was led by Francis Selemani Mtwale, who is considered to be President Kabila’s adoptive brother.

These two whistleblowers had the immense courage to highlight serious practices of misuse of resources in DRC. As French refugees, they have the right to seize the French courts,” said William Bourdon and Henri Thulliez, lawyers for Jean-Jacques Lumumba and Guylain Luwere. “The responsibility of the Congolese bank as an employer, and of the Gabonese bank as the parent company, is, in our view, crystal clear. The climate of impunity within the bank has allowed some leaders to threaten their employees and resort to immoral activities.

The “Lumumba Papers”

In October 2016, after Jean-Jacques Lumumba found exile in Europe, Belgian newspaper Le Soir published an in-depth article on suspicious activities of BGFIBank RDC, largely based on internal documents disclosed by Lumumba. The article reveals the bank’s involvement in corrupt activities, illegal financing and misappropriation of public funds. Lumumba’s documents also reveal the existence of suspicious transactions between BGFIBank RDC and the Independent National Electoral Commission.

The documents of Jean-Jacques Lumumba were relied on by Bloomberg in the article “With His Family’s Fortune at Stake, President Kabila Digs In” (2016) which highlighted the huge business network set up by the Kabila family in DRC.

Other investigations conducted on the basis of Jean-Jacques Lumumba’s documents by PPLAAF, Le Monde and OCCRP showed how public money was embezzled. More specifically, it was used for the purchase of wild animals in Namibia for the private interests of President Kabila.

Accounts of companies related to the financing of terrorism

In 2011, all commercial banks in DRC were notified by the Congolese Central Bank that they are prohibited from dealing with certain companies placed under sanctions by the US Treasury. The companies were accused by the US Treasury of belonging to a network of companies controlled by members of the Tajideen family, suspected of generating millions of dollars for the financing of Hezbollah.

In March 2017, one of the members of this family, Kassim Tajideen, was arrested in Morocco and extradited to the United States, where he was charged with fraud, money laundering and circumvention of US sanctions against terrorism, as well as for continuing a commercial relationship with, and receiving funds from, people and society under US sanctions. In December 2018, the US Department of Justice announced that Kassim Tajideen had pled guilty to circumventing US sanctions. The agreement, which is subject to court approval, requires a 60-month prison sentence and $ 50 million in pre-sentencing forfeiture.

Guylain Luwere had revealed that three companies, subsidiaries of Congo Futur, a company belonging to the Tajideen family, had bank deposits in the BGFIBank RDC between 2015 and 2017. These deposits totaled nearly 40% of the bank’s profitability and bank.

PPLAAF is a non-governmental organization created in March 2017 with hubs around Africa. It provides support to assist whistleblowers including encrypted communication, free legal advice or representation against employers, continued assistance to protect the whistleblower in the disclosure of information to the public, the development of legislation to protect whistleblowers and legal cases based on whistleblower information.

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