Press Release / / 04.19.22

Secret Sanctions Relief for Allegedly Corrupt Billionaire Demands Scrutiny

Secret Sanctions Relief for Allegedly Corrupt Billionaire Demands Scrutiny

April 19, 2022 (Washington, DC) – Three anti-corruption organizations urged the internal watchdogs for the US Treasury and State Departments to investigate the US government’s inappropriate decision just before the change of US administrations to effectively lift the sanctions on billionaire businessman Dan Gertler.

More than a year later, there is still almost no official information from the US government about its short-lived but alarming decision to secretly suspend Mr. Gertler’s sanctions,” said Adam Keith, Director for Accountability at Human Rights First, one of the organizations that sent a letter urging inspectors general at the Departments of the Treasury and State to investigate. “The public needs to understand how and why the previous administration took this step, which risked undermining fragile progress against corruption in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and suggested a playbook that individuals who are sanctioned for corruption or human rights abuse in the future may follow to dodge the consequences of their actions.

Mr. Gertler was sanctioned in 2017 by the Trump administration under the US government’s Global Magnitsky sanctions program for his alleged involvement in large-scale corruption in the DRC. In January 2021, the administration issued a license in secret that made it possible for Mr. Gertler to resume transactions that the sanctions had barred. Once it was leaked, that decision attracted bipartisan criticism: the incoming Biden administration revoked the license and described it as “inconsistent with America’s strong foreign policy interests in combatting corruption around the world,” and former senior Trump administration officials called it “truly appalling” and “an abuse of the process.”

Following a variety of civil society efforts over the last year to secure greater transparency into this decision, Human Rights First, The Sentry, and Transparency International sent a letter asking the inspectors general of the Treasury and State Departments to investigate the basis for the license.

The new administration quickly and rightfully withdrew Mr. Gertler’s license, but a lot of damage had already been done. To prevent a similar situation from occurring in the future, it is essential that the U.S. government provide greater transparency into what was behind this inexplicable policy shift,” said Justyna Gudzowska, Director of Illicit Finance Policy at The Sentry.

These three organizations had previously joined Congolese anti-corruption advocates and other groups in speaking out against the unprecedented license to Mr. Gertler.

Just as sanctioning a corrupt actor can help isolate and pressure them, lifting sanctions – if it’s done right – can help reward and reinforce positive changes in their behavior,” said Gary Kalman, Director of Transparency International US. “But we need to understand what happened with the Gertler license to restore public confidence in how the executive branch makes these decisions.”

The Global Magnitsky program imposes an asset freeze and visa restrictions on individuals found responsible for corruption or serious human rights abuse, and it has been a powerful tool for holding corrupt actors to account. Congress made the legislative mandate for Global Magnitsky permanent earlier this month when it reauthorized the 2016 statute that first launched the sanctions program.

To speak with Adam Keith or others at Human Rights First, please contact Eleanor Donohue, hrf@westendstrategy.com, (202) 704-5840.

To speak with Justyna Gudzowska or others at The Sentry, please contact Greg Hittelman at ghittelman@thesentry.org.

To speak with Gary Kalman at Transparency International, please contact him at  gkalman@transparency.org, 215-439-7090.

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About Human Rights First

Human Rights First is an independent advocacy and action organization that challenges America to live up to its ideals. For 40 years the organization has worked to press the U.S. government and private companies to respect human rights and the rule of law. When they fail, Human Rights First steps in to demand reform, accountability and justice. Human Rights First is based in New York, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles.

About The Sentry

The Sentry is an investigative and policy organization that seeks to disable multinational predatory networks that benefit from violent conflict, repression, and kleptocracy. Our efforts provide new leverage for human rights, peace, and anti-corruption efforts. Co-founded by George Clooney and John Prendergast, The Sentry is a strategic partner of the Clooney Foundation for Justice. Learn more at www.TheSentry.org

About Transparency International

Transparency International is the world’s largest coalition against corruption. We give voices to victims and witnesses of corruption, and work with governments, businesses, and citizens to stop the abuse of entrusted power. In collaboration with national chapters in more than 100 countries, we are leading the fight to turn our vision of a world free from corruption into reality. Through a combination of research, advocacy, and policy, we engage with stakeholders to increase public understanding of corruption and hold institutions and individuals accountable.