Friday, November 19, 2021

BREAKING: Africa's Biggest-Ever Leak, Dirty Millions Stashed in Washington DC Real Estate

NOTE from Congo Watch Editor: Thanks to The Sentry in Washington DC for sending me their report, copied here in full.


BREAKING: ‘CONGO HOLD-UP’

Africa’s Biggest-Ever Data Leak Reveals Dirty Millions Stashed in Washington DC Real Estate 

 

November 19, 2021 (Washington, DC) – Red flags for corruption, money laundering, and other financial crimes were ignored as millions of dollars linked to the former president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) traveled through a maze of business transactions and were stashed in quiet residential neighborhoods surrounding the US capital Washington, DC, according to a new investigative report by The Sentry, “Embezzled Empire.” 

 

The Sentry’s revelations come today in the first wave of “Congo Hold-up,” a series of investigative reports by an international consortium of non-profit organizations and media outlets. The millions of leaked bank records obtained by the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF) and the French news group Mediapart and shared with The Sentry and other consortium partners by PPLAAF and European Investigative Collaborations (EIC) represent the largest confidential data leak in African history.


Michelle Kendler-Kretsch, Investigator at The Sentry, said: “The Congo Hold-up leak is the clearest evidence to date of the powerful combination of tools the Kabila family had their fingertips to embezzle public funds, including a bank and a maze of companies all under their control. How the former president’s brother purchased millions of dollars’ worth of real estate in the US and South Africa, it appears in part using funds diverted from the Congolese government, is only one of many scandals now being revealed using this massive trove of leaked bank statements, emails, contracts, bills, and corporate records. This level of detail offers an unparalleled view of the previously-secret machinery used to plunder Congolese public funds.”

 

John Prendergast, Co-Founder of The Sentry, said: “Rarely is the world afforded such a clear and comprehensive view into the ways a state can be captured -- every theft of public money, backroom deal, and shell company, and every failure along the way to stop the chain of illicit transactions. With this magnitude of evidence in the Congo Hold-up leak, there should be no delay in bringing the corrupt perpetrators, their accomplices, and international enablers to justice.”

At a time of political turmoil, Francis Selemani, the brother of former DRC president Joseph Kabila, funneled steadily more money into real estate investments abroad, especially in the US. The Sentry’s investigation reveals how Selemani’s nine-year tenure in a senior management position at BGFIBank DRC gave the Kabila family and their allies access to a financial institution they could use to launder the proceeds of corruption. Oversight of BGFIBank DRC’s activities was badly deficient, as the bank’s own internal audit found, enabling the Kabila family to circulate funds clandestinely throughout their business network.


Justyna Gudzowska, Director of Illicit Finance Policy at The Sentry, said: "When the brother of a notoriously corrupt ruler is able to launder millions of dollars into real estate just a stone's throw from the US capital, it's high time to close the loopholes that allow this type of activity to flourish. The real estate industry has been far too happy to turn a blind eye to dirty money stolen from the world's poorest countries, and the exemption for real estate professionals in the US anti-money laundering framework should be revoked without delay." 

 

J.R. Mailey, Director of Investigations at The Sentry, said: “The Congo Hold-up leak is a paper trail of 3.5 million documents that leads to one central conclusion: banks are the arteries of a kleptocracy. They provide a place to park looted state assets, a vessel for paying and receiving bribes, a veil to disguise the origin and destination of illicit funds, and a conduit for stashing money in property abroad. The investigations published as part of this consortium provide a glimpse into how one of the world’s poorest countries has hemorrhaged untold wealth—but they also provide governments, law enforcement agencies, and financial institutions with the evidence needed to take meaningful action. The findings should prompt prosecutions, sanctions, asset seizures, hefty fines, and an overhaul of several countries’ anti-money laundering regimes.”

In the US, the full spectrum of anti-money laundering requirements only covers some of the professionals involved in a real estate transaction. Real estate professionals can provide valuable financial intelligence on possible illicit motives but are subject to fewer government reporting requirements than financial institutions.

 

Selected excerpts from The Sentry’s report:


- Although President Joseph Kabila’s final term as head of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was set to end in December 2016, he clung to power and delayed elections for another two years. While the eyes of many observers were fixed on the election stalling tactics in Kinshasa, Kabila’s brother Francis Selemani purchased numerous luxury homes in the United States and South Africa, it appears at least in part using funds diverted from the Congolese government. 


- At the time, Selemani was managing director of BGFIBank DRC, the Congolese subsidiary of Gabon-based BGFIBank Group.


- Selemani and the Kabila family used a network of companies and the bank they controlled to misappropriate public funds, transferring millions abroad and purchasing millions of dollars in foreign real estate.


- Because many of Selemani’s real estate acquisitions were all-cash purchases, he was able to avoid the standard due diligence performed in connection with bank financing—due diligence that might have raised questions about the source of his wealth. 


- Selemani and the Kabila family moved substantial sums through BGFIBank DRC with little to no resistance. Among the most problematic transactions, according to an internal audit at BGFIBank DRC, were multimillion-dollar transfers involving an obscure company called Sud Oil.


- Among the bank records in the Congo Hold-up leak are documents revealing that between 2015 and 2018, Sud Oil sent more than $12 million to accounts and companies owned or controlled by Selemani. 


- Investigations by The Sentry, Congo Research Group, and other members of the Congo Hold-up consortium show that Sud Oil received at least $85 million in funds from a range of Congolese government institutions, including the Central Bank of Congo, the DRC’s permanent mission to the United Nations in New York, the Congolese state-owned mining company G├ęcamines, and the country’s electoral commission. 


- Selemani purchased 17 properties for a total of $6.6 million in the affluent suburbs of Washington, DC, and Johannesburg, South Africa. 


- The Sentry identified a range of irregularities, misrepresentations, and inconsistencies in transactions connected to bank accounts held by Selemani and his companies that are red flags for money laundering and other financial crimes. Funds received from public institutions lacked justification, and the sources of funding for some transfers were misrepresented.


- Selemani and his companies received almost $3 million in US and South African bank accounts for which the wire transfers bore apparently inaccurate details.


- Selemani used corporate vehicles that obscured his identity as the owner of all but one of the 17 real estate purchases discovered by The Sentry. Selemani had originally purchased nine properties in his own name, but he then transferred ownership to a commercial company and to trusts he controlled, including by selling them to his own company, in a series of operations that is a red flag for money laundering through real estate. 


Key recommendations (complete recommendations in the report): 


- Open an investigation into these real estate purchases. Authorities in the United States and South Africa should investigate the source of funds used by Selemani and his relatives to buy properties in their respective countries. If appropriate, they should pursue legal mechanisms to forfeit and seize properties purchased with the proceeds of corruption or other illicit means.


- Conduct a thorough internal investigation. Any financial institution that has engaged in a correspondent banking relationship with BGFIBank DRC or processed transactions involving the bank should conduct a thorough internal investigation to ascertain whether it has participated in violations of law or contravened internal policies. The investigation should include a review of the financial institution’s internal controls around anti-money laundering (AML) and anti-corruption compliance. Appropriate remedial action should be implemented immediately.


- Ensure that the US and South African real estate sectors comply with Financial Action Task Force (FATF) customer due diligence standards. The US Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) should require real estate agents and other professionals involved in real estate transactions, such as lawyers, to maintain AML programs, file suspicious activity reports, and comply with other record-keeping and reporting requirements, including the identification of beneficial ownership information and source of funds. South Africa’s Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) should vigorously enforce the 2017 additions to the Financial Intelligence Centre Act (FICA) that put these requirements in place. FinCEN and the FIC should provide training and testing to ensure compliance with established standards. 


- Issue a public advisory on the money laundering risks in real estate. FinCEN should issue an updated public advisory to US financial institutions warning of the risks for money laundering through real estate, including the involvement of family members of politically exposed persons (PEPs) highlighted in this report. FinCEN should also expand and make permanent the geographic targeting order (GTO) program to cover all real estate purchases, regardless of location in the US.


Read the full report: https://thesentry.org/reports/embezzled-empire

Visit the Congo Hold-up coalition hub: https://congoholdup.com


For media inquiries or interview requests, please contact: 

Greg Hittelman, Director of Communications, +1 310 717 0606, gh@thesentry.org

About The Sentry

The Sentry is an investigative and policy team that follows the dirty money connected to African war criminals and transnational war profiteers and seeks to shut those benefiting from violence out of the international financial system. By disrupting the cost-benefit calculations of those who hijack governments for self-enrichment, we seek to counter the main drivers of conflict and create new leverage for peace, human rights, and good governance. The Sentry is composed of financial investigators, international human rights lawyers, and regional experts, as well as former law enforcement agents, intelligence officers, policymakers, investigative journalists, and banking professionals. Co-founded by George Clooney and John Prendergast, The Sentry is a strategic partner of the Clooney Foundation for Justice.

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Rare monkey photographed in Congo's newest national park, Ntokou-Pikounda

Rare monkey photographed in Congo's newest national park, Ntokou-Pikounda
Report from Phys.org
Dated 16 April 2015
Photo: The first photograph ever taken of Bouvier's red colobus (an adult female and infant). The image was taken in the Republic of Congo's Ntokou-Pikounda National Park in early March [2015]. Credit: Lieven Devreese

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

DR Congo: 3000+ Ebola cases, 2000 deaths

Press Release from World Health Organization (WHO) 
Dated Friday 06 September 2019
WHO and partners to help the Government boost health facility defences against Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
At least 155 health care workers have been infected with the Ebola virus disease since the beginning of this tenth outbreak
GENEVA, Switzerland, September 6, 2019/ -- To strengthen health practitioners’ proficiency in preventing the spread of Ebola virus disease in health facilities, the Commission for Prevention and Biosecurity of the Ministry of Health of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) launched on 5 September a guideline and training package on infection prevention and control that targets at least 3 000 nurses, doctors and other health care workers.

During the current Ebola outbreak, working in or transiting through health facilities present a high risk of exposure to the virus. With the ongoing heightened attention to equipping health facilities with Ebola-specific response units, the Government of the DRC is intent on covering all potential weak points by training staff on infection prevention, using standard guidelines recently revised by a team of technical specialists from the Health Ministry, the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund and the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

The ongoing tenth outbreak of Ebola in the DRC, which passed its one-year mark on 1 August, is the country’s worst. The number of confirmed and suspected cases have passed 3 000, with the number of deaths exceeding 2 000.

As of 25 August, nearly 18% of the total cases registered were hospital-acquired infections. At least 155 health care workers have been infected with the Ebola virus disease since the beginning of this tenth outbreak.

WHO is supporting the Commission for Prevention and Biosecurity in boosting infection prevention and hygiene training.

“I salute the progress being made in saving lives from Ebola virus disease,” said WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, “But the situation remains critical, and a number of challenges remain. As part of our commitment to strengthening the health system of the DRC, we want to ensure that health facilities are not contributing to the spread of infectious diseases and this includes Ebola.”

With funding from the United States Agency for International Development, the UK Department for International Development and the World Bank, the training package provides a standardized approach to practices and procedures for health facilities and integrates measures related to water management, sanitation and hygiene, which are essential for preventing the spread of infectious disease.

The guidelines and training package will be rolled out over the next three months, beginning in Goma and targeting health care workers and other actors involved in primary response. This will enforce the universal application of infection prevention and control standards throughout the health care chain.

The revised guidelines will not only improve the infection prevention and control measures for Ebola but also serve as a broader health systems strengthening tool for preventing the spread of other infectious diseases within health facilities.

The training course and application of the prescribed standards will be monitored over the coming year in order to evaluate their effectiveness and possible impact on health facility-acquired Ebola virus disease.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of World Health Organization (WHO).

SOURCE: World Health Organization (WHO)

Monday, September 09, 2019

South Sudan: Ebola Preparedness (July 2019)

Press Release 
From United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Dated 01 August 2019
South Sudan: Ebola Preparedness Dashboard (July 2019)

SITUATION UPDATE

At the end of July a total of 2,699 Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) cases had been reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with 1,782 deaths (case fatality rate of 67 per cent). 

The risk of EVD spreading to South Sudan remained very high but there were no confirmed cases. 

Eleven alerts were reported and verified during the month, with results of laboratory testing using GeneXpert available within 48 hours.

Progress towards targets under the National EVD Preparedness Plan continued. 

The number of border points of entry providing screening reached 32, with over 304,000 primary screenings and over 300 secondary screenings conducted. 

Some 180 frontline workers from 8 organisations across the Yei area were vaccinated.

Preventive messages were broadcast through more than 2,300 radio spots, while over 400 key community influencers were engaged. 

The number of trained and equipped safe and dignified burial teams increased to 13. 

While additional funding contributions were under consideration, preparedness efforts remained underfunded with U$10.7 million still to be secured against planned requirements.

INFOGRAPHIC
Published on 23 Aug 2019 —




Saturday, September 07, 2019

South Sudan: Dispels fears of Ebola outbreak

Article from Radio Tamazuj.org
Dated 07 July 2019 - Juba, South Sudan
South Sudan dispels fears of Ebola outbreak
File photo: WHO Uganda

South Sudan’s Ministry of Health has dispelled fears of an Ebola outbreak following a confirmed case in Aliwara, in the eastern part of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), some 70 kilometers from the border.

Addressing reporters in Juba on Friday, the undersecretary in the health ministry, Makur Matur Koriom said South Sudan is safe from the Ebola virus.

"I would like to take the opportunity to assure the South Sudanese people and residents in this country that so far there is no Ebola in South Sudan," he said.

"We responded quickly and the national taskforce convened on that day and immediately informed the taskforce and our partners in Yei about the developments in the DRC," he added.

Meanwhile, World Health Organization (WHO) officer in charge of health emergencies in South Sudan, Guracha Guyo said they are committed to improve Ebola preparedness mechanisms in the country.

"All of us are committed to support the government in its endeavor to make sure that the Ebola virus will be prevented from coming to South Sudan," he said.

According to the WHO official, more than 700 frontline healthcare workers have been provided with Ebola vaccines in Yei River State.

South Sudan suffered Ebola outbreak in 2004 after WHO reported 20 cases, including five deaths, from Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF) in Yambio.

Ebola is a rare but deadly virus that causes fever, body aches, and diarrhea, and sometimes bleeding inside and outside the body.

- - -

Photo: A worker from the World Health Organisation decontaminates the doorway of a house on a plot where two cases of Ebola were found, in the village of Mabalako, in eastern Congo, 17 June 2019.

Friday, September 06, 2019

South Sudan: On alert for Ebola virus

Article from Voice of America News.com
By DIMO SILVA AURELIO 
Dated 4 July 2019
South Sudan on High Alert for Ebola Virus

JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN - South Sudan’s health officials are ramping up efforts to prevent the deadly Ebola virus from entering the country following a confirmed case some 70 kilometers from the border, in the northern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Dr. Pinyi Nyimol, South Sudan's director general for disease control and emergency response services, said the health ministry has sent seven personnel to the Yei River state, which borders Congo. "The aim is to strengthen the surveillance and preparedness for Ebola,” Nyimol told VOA's South Sudan in Focus.

“We are more worried because it is coming nearer because people are moving, so anybody, a contact can cross to South Sudan and the only thing we can do is to enhance our surveillance and screening and also to alert our health care workers about this and anybody coming, they have to start with traveling history and ask whether this person has been in DRC or not,” Nyimol said.
Photo: Ebola case reported not far from South Sudan border. Authorities have confirmed an Ebola case just 70 kilometres (43 miles) from Congo's border with South Sudan

The case was registered Tuesday in Ariwara, a trading center. The person, a 40-year-old woman, had traveled some 500 kilometers from Beni, in Congo's North Kivu province, according to Congolese officials.
North Kivu is an epicenter of the Ebola outbreak that has killed more than 1,500 people.  

Nyimol says it is the first confirmed case close to the South Sudan-DRC border since the outbreak erupted last August in eastern Congo.

He said for the last six months, South Sudan has been under high alert and increased its surveillance response at several border screening centers.

“We have points of entry doing screening at the high-risk states, we have Ebola treatment unit here in Juba and there is a laboratory and we have an ambulance ready for any suspect and there are trained staff and if there is a suspected case at Juba International Airport, it can be collected and taken for investigation; the same [is true] at the Juba Nimule border entry,” said Nyimol.

A number of people from the DRC cross into South Sudan’s Yei River State on a daily basis, according to South Sudanese health officials.

The Ebola virus is a deadly disease that affects humans and non-human primates.  Symptoms include unexplained bleeding, high fever, severe headache, muscle pain, weakness, and vomiting. The virus is spread through body fluids, such as the blood of an infected person.