The Disclosures of Two Whistleblowers on the Troubling Practices of a Congolese Bank

On July 2nd, 2020, bank documents collected and then transmitted by the whistleblowers Gradi Koko Lobanga and Navy Malela Mawani had allowed Global Witness and PPLAAF to publicly reveal the use of Afriland First Bank CD by billionaire Dan Gertler to bypass US sanctions against him in the report « Undermining Sanctions ».

On February 26th, 2021, the two whistleblowers revealed their identities, while their documents were the basis to other investigative reports published by RFI, Bloomberg, Africa Confidential, Haaretz and Mail & Guardian.

These investigations show that people close to Dan Gertler undertook the conversion of millions of dollars into euros through the bank following the US Treasury sanctions. Some of these sums were then transferred to shell companies used to pay associates and other individuals linked to Gertler.

One of these companies is Western Financial Services (WFS) which has been under US sanctions since December 2017. Some of its beneficiaries are close to the Israeli businessman.

Four euro loans were granted to WFS by Afriland First Bank CD between September 28th, 2018 and March 7th, 2019, with a last known amount of 39.5 million euros. Each loan eventually allowed the previous one to be repaid in advance. For Gradi Koko: « This could be what we call money laundering by self-lending ».

It is clear from these financial transactions that their main interest lay in obtaining foreign currency in euros, as Dan Gertler was unable to transact in dollars.

Although the auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), which certified Afriland First Bank CD’s accounts, was aware of these transactions, it stated in a report that the bank’s finances were: « in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles in the Democratic Republic of Congo ». However, the auditing firm subsequently stopped working with the bank.

In August 2020, further information revealed by The Sentry showed that the bank hosted the accounts of two North Korean businessmen and their construction company in DRC despite strict international bans.

The facts date back to the creation of the construction company Congo Aconde in 2018 by two North Korean businessmen, Pak Hwa Song and Hwang Kil Su. Subject to international sanctions, the businessmen nevertheless managed to open a dollar-denominated bank account with Afriland First Bank CD for their company. This enabled them to secure a contract to build statues in DRC even though this activity was explicitly prohibited by UN sanctions in 2016.

More alarmingly, this account has allowed Congo Aconde to move funds internationally even though the main purpose of sanctions against North Korea is to block its access to the international financial system. Indeed, this access could allow North Korea to generate income abroad and subsequently fund its program of weapons of mass destruction. According to The Sentry, the banking access granted to Congo Aconde by Afriland First Bank CD could therefore constitute a threat to international peace and security.

Congo Aconde is unfortunately not the only controversial company to have been welcomed with open arms by Afriland First Bank CD.

Among them are Minocongo and Pain Victoire, whose General Manager and owner, Saleh Assi, has been subject to US Treasury sanctions since December 2019. According to the US Government, this Lebanese businessman provided financial support to Adham Husayn Tabaja, the designated financier of the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, which it considers a terrorist organization.

The recently established logging company IFCO also holds accounts at Afriland First Bank CD. This company is, in fact, continuing the activity of the company Cotrefor, formerly Trans-M, which was run by Ahmed Tajeddine, a businessman who was also placed under sanctions by the US Treasury in 2010. The US government considered that the profits generated by the company numbering in the millions of dollars were financing Hezbollah.

Afriland First Bank CD has also not hesitated to host the accounts of controversial politicians or business people.

Such is the case of Kirill Parinov, a Russian business lawyer who specialized in international mergers and acquisitions. This mysterious businessman, whom no one seems to know in DRC, nevertheless owns a company created on August 22nd, 2019, Riverside Project Management, and is linked to Starstone DRC, in which he an associate with the Brazzaville businessman Serge Pereira.

Between September 2018 and February 2019, and despite a 10,000 dollars’ withdrawal limit imposed by the Congolese Central Bank, the Russian lawyer withdrew more than 50 million in cash from his account at Afriland First Bank CD via his company Riverside Project Management.

According to the General Manager of Afriland First Bank CD, the withdrawals were related to the construction of a road bridge in Kinshasa, estimated at 1.3 billion dollars. However, according to a government source, the project had not yet started in 2019, and the costs associated with the work did not require more than 7 million dollars.

The public-private partnership was not between Riverside Project Management and the Congolese government but with Starstone DRC, which cannot explain Afriland First Bank CD’s acceptance of Kirill Parinov’s withdrawal of over 50 million dollars in cash.

In addition, other bank documents provided by whistleblowers Gradi Koko and Navy Malela revealed that 4.4 million euros had been withdrawn in cash between December 28th, 2018, and January 14th, 2019, from the Senate’s account in the middle of the electoral process.

The Congolese governor of Lualaba Richard Muyej was also able to easily withdraw several hundred thousand dollars in cash from his account at Afriland First Bank CD. Besides, Richard Muyej is now accused by the Congolese Treasury of not being able to justify 40% of his cabinet’s expenses.

By blowing the whistle on these fraudulent practices, dangerous to DRC’s national and international interests, Gradi Koko and Navy Malela are now under threat of death in DRC and have become, together with the NGOs that support them, the targets of continuous attacks.

Such a relentless attempt to silence the two whistleblowers only proves the undeniable authenticity of the facts revealed. The untruthfulness of the false allegations made by Afriland First Bank CD, Dan Gertler and his allies is in itself an admission of weakness.