BREAKING: ‘CONGO HOLD-UP’
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 billions—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:
Key recommendations (complete recommendations in the report):
Read the full report: thesentry.org/reports/embezzled-empire/
Visit the Congo Hold-up coalition hub: www.congoholdup.com
For media inquiries or interview requests, please contact: Greg Hittelman, Director of Communications, +1 310 717 0606, [email protected]
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.