WASHINGTON – The Biden administration on Monday again imposed financial sanctions on an Israeli mining executive who reached out to a team of lobbyists to ease measures during President Donald J. Trump’s last term in office.
The reversal came after a series of complaints from human rights activists, members of Congress and activists in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in which businessman Dan Gertler secured access to mining rights for decades through what the Treasury Department called “a” during the Trump administration corrupt deals where the Congo had more than $ 1.3 billion in revenue from the sale of minerals.
In mid-January, just before Mr Trump stepped down, Mr Gertler secretly secured a one-year license from the Treasury Department freezing the money he had deposited with financial institutions in the United States. The license also effectively ended a ban on Mr. Gertler from doing business through the international banking system. The Trump administration imposed these sanctions in 2017.
The Biden administration is now endeavoring to reinstate these conditions, although Mr Gertler has likely already withdrawn some of the previously frozen money from the United States.
The Foreign Ministry said Monday that Mr. Gertler was “involved in extensive public corruption” and that the Treasury, in consultation with the Foreign Ministry, was reversing its actions.
“The license previously granted to Mr. Gertler contradicts America’s strong foreign policy interests in fighting corruption around the world, particularly US efforts to fight corruption and promote stability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” it said a statement from the US State Department Monday. “The United States will continue to promote accountability for corrupt actors using all the tools we have at our disposal to promote democracy, uphold international norms and place a tangible cost on those who try to improve them.”
Alan M. Dershowitz, an attorney and lobbyist who helped Mr. Gertler call for the sanctions to be lifted, said he was disappointed with the Biden government’s action.
“This decision was made unilaterally, without Mr. Gertler having the opportunity to provide evidence that he met all requirements and was behaving properly,” said Mr. Dershowitz. “We are in the process of reviewing all of our options.”
Mr. Gertler has worked in the Congo for more than two decades and has signed a number of contracts for the export of diamonds, gold, oil, cobalt and other minerals. The Treasury Department said in 2018 that he had “amassed hundreds of millions of dollars in fortune through opaque and corrupt mining.”
Mr. Gertler had promised American officials that he would comply with global anti-corruption rules in order to obtain the license that the Treasury Department had granted him in January. But officials in the Congo said the sanctions exemption would undermine efforts to fight corruption and help the new democratically elected president limit the continued influence of the country’s former leader Joseph Kabila, an ally of Mr Gertler.
“The restoration of sanctions will allow the Congolese and US anti-corruption efforts to get back on track,” said John Prendergast, co-founder of The Sentry, a nonprofit human rights group that was among more than a dozen the Biden administration is pulling down had requested the license. “Dan Gertler’s corrupt partnership with former President Joseph Kabila has cost the Democratic Republic of the Congo dearly in terms of lost resources, lost services and ultimately lost lives.”
In 2019, Mr. Gertler hired Mr. Dershowitz, who later served as Mr. Trump’s attorney, and Louis Freeh, a former FBI director, to act as lobbyists to urge the Treasury Department to lift the sanctions.
Mr. Gertler was granted the license after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin directed the agency’s acting head of the Agency’s Foreign Assets Control Office to take the move, despite several Trump-era State Department officials overseeing United States’ African relations were opposite The New York Times when they hadn’t known such a move was imminent and that they were against it.
After the grant of the license became public, employees of Mr. Gertler said that part of the reason he was given special treatment was because he had played an unknown role in supporting US national security interests. Tax officials and representatives of Mr. Gertler would not describe the specifics of the support.
The same Treasury office that licensed Mr. Gertler in January revoked it on Monday, yet another sign of how unusual this series of events was.
Activists in the Congo who have worked for years to ensure that the wealth produced by mining minerals in the nation – one of the poorest in the world despite having some of the most important mineral reserves in the world – hoped the action would make further progress Combating corrupt businesses that have understaffed the people there.
“This will give the government here a reason to hold Dan Gertler and his staff a little more accountable,” said Fred Bauma, member of The Struggle for Change, a human rights group in the Congo. “It’s good news from the new administration in the United States.”
Democrats in Congress, who urged the Treasury Department to reverse the action, also praised the move.
“If well-connected international billionaires like Gertler believe that there is a chance they can get away with their corrupt actions, they won’t be stopped from doing so,” said Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat of Maryland and Senate Foreign Senator Relationship Committee said in a statement.