A 20-year friendship that helped turn Dan Gertler into a billionaire has left the Israeli businessman with a lot fewer places to go.
The U.S. government accused Gertler of corrupt mining and oil deals in the Democratic Republic of Congo and said he acted as a middle-man to enrich his longtime buddy, President Joseph Kabila.
The two have been close since Gertler arrived as a young diamond merchant during a civil war in 1997, and Congo — one of Africa’s poorest countries — is the main source of his wealth.
“Most of my business is in the Congo and my faith is in the Congo,” Gertler, 44, said in a rare interview on Dec. 21, just hours before the U.S. government imposed economic sanctions against him.
At the time, he remained defiantly optimistic about his businesses even as he was being singled out by American and British investigators conducting prolonged bribery and corruption probes related to some of his Congo deals.
“I am a strong believer in the future of the Congo,” he said. But doing anything inside and out of Africa has gotten a lot harder for him in the past two months.
Sanctions have shut Gertler out of the American financial system, halting access to the dollars that are the main currency used in Congo and in global raw-material deals. U.S. companies are banned from doing business with him. Former partners are distancing themselves.
“All our payments have ceased forthwith,” said Mark Bristow, the chief executive officer of Randgold Resources Ltd., which has a gold exploration project with Gertler’s Fleurette Group in northeast Congo. “We’ve got U.S. directors, and we are listed on the Nasdaq. We cannot entertain doing business and transacting in any form.”
To be sure, Congo’s government stands by Gertler, who still holds mineral and oil rights
in the country and funds education and health centers.