Africa, Corruption, Human rights, Sanctions, Top Stories

DR Congo mining chief lobbies for US visit amid corruption allegations

The head of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s state mining company has hired a lobbyist to help arrange a visit to the United States as he faces backlash at home and abroad over allegations of corruption.

Albert Yuma Mulindi, the chairman of Gecamines, hired George Denison effective July 7, a new lobbying filing indicates. The stated purpose of the lobbying is to “encourage better trade relations between the US and DR Congo.”

Denison, a longtime Africa lobbyist who once worked as a speechwriter for President Gerald Ford, told Foreign Lobby Report that he had been retained to help Yuma score a visa. He said Yuma has two daughters in the United States and wants to visit them. Denison said he had listed trade in his filing because Yuma is also chairman of the Congolese Employers Federation, the country’s biggest business lobby group.

“I’m not trying to do anything for him that has anything to do with governance in his country,” Denison said. “What else he might do when he comes here is out of my hands.”

Part of his role, Denison added, is to “overcome the problems” that the State Department and other US agencies have erected when dealing with allies of former President Joseph Kabila and the DR Congo’s mining sector. While Yuma himself has not been sanctioned, he has been linked to Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler, whom the Treasury Department has accused of striking corrupt deals with Yuma’s Gecamines.

The visa quest comes less than two weeks after the DRC public portfolio ministry approved President Felix Tshisekedi’s long-delayed nominations to lead Gecamines. Yuma, who is close to Tshisekedi’s predecessor Kabila, was reappointed as chairman. But Tshisekedi also named his own loyalists to senior positions. Last year, a presidential spokesman said the nominations were aimed at “stripping Yuma of his exorbitant powers”.

Yuma also faces heat from the judicial branch. Congolese prosecutors are investigating a $222 million line of credit issued to Gecamines by one of Gertler’s companies, Reuters reported in December. At the time, Yuma was reportedly banned from leaving the country.

New allegations of links between Yuma and Gertler surfaced in a report last week by Global Witness and the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa. The report said Gecamines approved new mining permits for two Congolese companies “that may be proxies for Gertler” in the months before the 2018 elections, at a time when Gertler was already under US sanctions.

In the past, Global Witness has described Gecamines as “a cash machine for elites in Kinshasa” and Yuma as a “close ally of, and even commercial front for, President Kabila.” Gecamines and Yuma have denied the allegations, calling them “voluntarily biased to serve the same economic or political interests that all over the world have a negative eye on those states that wish to sovereignly decide the independent exploitation of the wealth of their country.”

Yuma has called the sanctions against Gertler “unjust,” Bloomberg reports. The Israeli magnate for his part hired former FBI director Louis Freeh and Alan Dershowitz, a prominent ally of US President Donald Trump, to lobby for the sanctions’ removal in October 2018.

Denison, Yuma’s new lobbyist, is no stranger to Africa.

Lobbying records show that he has represented African governments including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Mauritania, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe over the past 30 years. He is currently registered to lobby for groups advocating for democracy in Cote d’Ivoire, the DRC and Ethiopia, though he has not reported lobbying activity or fees from any of them in the first half of this year.

Most notably, Denison is registered to lobby for a group called the Coalition for a Free Democratic Congo along with former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Hank Cohen. On his blog, Cohen wrote that the group is “associated with” Tshisekedi and Moise Katumbi, another prominent rival of Yuma’s pal Kabila.

“In the DRC, it is time for Albert Yuma to retire and enjoy his ill gotten gains,” Cohen wrote on Twitter earlier this year. “Gecamines belongs to the people of the Congo, not to Albert Yuma.”