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Grand corruption probes could cause economic and political fall-out

Parallel investigations into state capture and corporate graft force policy shifts as treasury funds run dry

Reports emerging from parallel investigations in Britain, Switzerland, and the United States point to the operation of an elite network which has laundered cash and paid over US$360 million in bribes to senior figures in ex-President Joseph Kabila's government.

Based substantially on court documents, the reports published today, in Africa Confidential  (AC Vol 62 No 15, Court documents show Gertler at centre of $360m cash laundry), Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper and Bloomberg News, suggest the multi-jurisdictional investigations are set to uncover more information about the key figures and companies in the network, and the consequent losses to Congo-Kinshasa's treasury (AC Vol 62 No 10, Gertler's billions). 

Britain's Serious Fraud Office (SFO), which has been investigating claims of serial corruption in mining deals in Congo-K, provided critical information to Switzerland's Federal Criminal Court on the workings of what appears to be a well-organised money-laundering and bribery system. 

The SFO is now trying to identify all the individuals and companies in the money-laundering network, including entities in Switzerland. It is doing so in parallel with the US Department of Justice and federal Swiss investigations into allegations of corrupt payments to officials in Kinshasa in exchange for mining rights.

These probes are making headway as Congo-K goes through a political and economic transition. Earlier this year, President Félix Tshisekedi wrested control of parliament and the security services from his predecessor Joseph Kabila (AC Vol 62 No 3, Félix tips the scales). Some of Kabila's corporate associates have been distanced under the new order.

Two technocrats have been appointed to manage the economy: ex-UN official Nicolas Kazadi is the new finance minister and ex-International Monetary Fund economist Malangu Kabedi-Mbuyi was appointed governor of the central bank this month.

Kazadi and Kabedi-Mbuyi have to steer a new US$1.5 billion economic reform programme with the IMF, the country's first for a decade. A key component of that will be greater transparency and accountability in Congo-K's mining sector. As the biggest cobalt producer in the world, Congo should be benefiting from the global shift towards electric vehicles, many powered by cobalt-based rechargeable batteries.

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