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Biden administration reinstates sanctions against Israeli mining tycoon

Sanctions against billionaire Dan Gertler, levied for 'malign behavior' in the Democratic Republic of Congo, had been lifted during Trump's last days in office
US Treasury Department initially levied sanctions against Israeli mining tycoon Dan Gertler in 2017 (AFP/File photo)

The Treasury Department has revoked a sanctions waiver given to an Israeli billionaire who had been designated for taking part in alleged corrupt mining practices in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). 

In a statement on Monday, the State Department said that exempting mining tycoon Dan Gertler from sanctions was "inconsistent with America's strong foreign policy interests in combating corruption around the world". 

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The waiver, awarded during the final days of the Trump administration, lifted a ban on Gertler that barred him from conducting business in US dollars and had seen his US assets frozen. 

The measures will now be reinstated due to Gertler's "extensive public corruption", the department said. 

The State Department stressed the US's commitment to the DRC "to counter malign behavior that undermines the country’s institutions and economic opportunities". 

The action came after Congolese and international human rights groups and several US lawmakers last month called on the Biden administration to reverse the Trump administration's waiver. 

'Eleventh-hour permit'

Sanctions were originally levied against Gertler in December 2017 and June 2018, as the billionaire was accused of using his connections to the former Congolese president, Joseph Kabila, to arrange "opaque and corrupt mining and oil deals". 

The deals were reported to have cost the citizens of the DRC more than $1.36bn in lost revenue from 2010 to 2012 alone, according to the Treasury Department. 

Gertler has denied wrongdoing and argued that his investments in Congo bolstered the country’s development.

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The decision to ease sanctions on the Israeli billionaire was not publicly announced until four days after Trump left office, and a recent investigation by the New York Times alleged multiple irregularities in the process.

Trump administration officials did not broadly consult with State Department and national security advisers ahead of issuing the licence to Gertler, according to the Times. 

Last week, Sasha Lezhnev, a deputy director of policy at The Sentry, a Washington-based non-profit that tracks money connected to war criminals and war profiteers, told Middle East Eye that the Trump administration's move to protect Gertler was "a slap in the face". 

"Gertler has been one of the biggest looters of the DRC's natural resources," Lezhnev said.

Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, lead author of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, released a statement on Monday welcoming the Biden administration's move. 

Cardin said Gertler should not have been granted "an eleventh-hour permit" to do business with US banks and companies.

"If well-connected international billionaires like Gertler think there is a chance they can get away with their corrupt actions, then they will not be deterred," Cardin said.