(Paris, November 22nd, 2021) One of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) most important food importers, Egal, used BGFIBank DRC to pay millions of dollars to accounts linked to former President Joseph Kabila during his time in office, said in a report the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF) today. The report by PPLAAF is part of the Congo Hold-up investigations.
The company Egal - run by Kabila’s closest associates – billed itself as a patriotic venture, with the overriding aim of bringing down food prices for ordinary Congolese, who are facing unprecedented hunger levels. PPLAAF’s new report exposes how it splashed out public funds on luxury assets and shipped over 1,000 wild animals, including giraffes, white rhinos and elephants, to Kabila’s vast private landholdings.
Egal’s funding included $43 million diverted from the Central Bank and $34.6 million of suspect transfers through the Congolese branch of BGFI, whose holding company is partly owned by Gabon’s presidential family.
DRC’s anti-corruption czar, Jules Alingete, has told Congo Hold-up that Egal must have known about the diversion of Central Bank funds. He has said that the BGFI belongs to a “mafia group” and that “what has happened is unacceptable.” In an earlier letter to Egal, published online, he had exonerated the company.
“Egal is symbolic of the cynicism and corruption that deprived Congo of desperately needed funds”, said Gabriel Bourdon-Fattal of PPLAAF. “A company with a façade of patriotic heroism, aiming to provide affordable food for all – only to serve as a golden piggybank for the President’s friends.”
PPLAAF is publishing its exposé as part of the Congo Hold-up investigative project, based on the largest leak from the African continent to date. Initiated by PPLAAF and Mediapart, and coordinated with the media network European Investigative Collaborations (EIC), the six-month-long project reveals how BGFI has been used to plunder Congo’s public funds and natural resources. The looting was largely for the benefit of the inner circle of Kabila, President from 2001 to 2019.
PPLAAF’s report, “A Fishy Tale: The President’s friends and the looting of a hungry nation”, reveals that the Central Bank gave Egal $43 million in 2013, to serve as collateral for huge loans from BGFI. While the $43 million was supposed to remain untouched in a holding account, within weeks of it arriving, the company sent $3 million in 2013 to an account linked to Kabila. An email written by an agent of the bank confirms that it was a “transfer request […] from Egal to the Presidency”.
Another $3 million was sent by Egal to a shell company run by BGFI’s own CEO in Congo, Francis Selemani, the adopted brother of Kabila.
In another remarkable side venture, Egal shipped hundreds of wild animals, including families of elephants, to farms Kabila was turning into private zoos.
PPLAAF’s report also reveals a cover-up by the most senior executives at BGFI’s Congo branch, after auditors and executives from BGFI headquarters began looking into Egal’s transactions. The cover-up included BGFI producing fake documents, while the Central Bank and Egal misled Congo’s anti-corruption authorities, who report to current President Félix Tshisekedi.
“Thanks to a $43 million gift from the Central Bank, Egal could send millions to accounts linked to the President and family, and stock up his vast landholdings with giraffes, white rhinos and elephants,” said Daniel Balint-Kurti, freelance journalist and the author of the report. “And the bank at the centre of it helped to cover the whole thing up.”
BGFI, Selemani, other BGFI executives, the Central Bank and Kabila all refused to reply to detailed questions. Egal told PPLAAF and its partners that it had been exonerated by Congo’s anti-corruption authorities while also saying it could not comment because the matter is still under investigation.
PPLAAF first exposed BGFI’s corrupt transactions in July 2017. PPLAAF has been working closely with whistleblower Jean-Jacques Lumumba – former head of the credit department of BGFI in Congo – and journalists at Le Monde and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. PPLAAF has also been providing Lumumba with pro-bono legal counsel since January 2017.
PPLAAF is a non-governmental organization established in 2017 to protect whistleblowers, as well as to advocate and engage in strategic litigation on their behalf when their revelations deal with the general interests of African citizens.
Almost 100 contributors from 19 media and five non-profit organisations, across 18 countries, worked on the Congo Hold-up investigation. Delving into 3.5 million documents– and records on millions of transactions – the consortium discovered that Kabila and his associates diverted at least $138 million from public coffers between 2013 and 2018. The looted funds came from a range of public institutions, including the national electoral commission, the Central Bank and even United Nations payments for Congolese peacekeepers on mission in neighbouring Central African Republic.
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Daniel Balint-Kurti, author of the report (English, French): email@example.com
Gabriel Bourdon- Fattal, PPLAAF Project manager (English, French): firstname.lastname@example.org or +33-6-58-01-61-96