According to the Swiss federal criminal court last week, the corruption destroying the Democratic Republic of the Congo – where devastating conflicts over minerals used in our electronics have killed more than six million people – is inextricably linked to the UK, Gibraltar and Switzerland.
It was a significant moment exposing corruption that has fuelled not only grinding poverty, famine and unemployment in DRC but also the impunity and violence required to sustain it. Yet, unless there is accountability, it won’t change.
According to the ruling, between 2006 and 2011, at the height of ex-president Joseph Kabila’s rule, individuals and entities in the UK, Gibraltar and Switzerland paid almost $380m (£280m) in cash bribes to authorities in DRC through an array of shell companies and subsidiaries – and, in this case, the UK’s Serious Fraud Office told the Swiss court that it has the evidence to back it.
In return, Kabila offered some of DRC’s strategic gems and minerals, including cobalt, an essential component of lithium-ion batteries used to power electric vehicles. The country is home to about 60% of the world’s known cobalt reserves, which makes some of Kabila’s corrupt friends in the UK, Gibraltar and Switzerland almost indispensable in the global supply chain of electric cars, while Congolese die daily from violence required to sustain their corrupt deals.
Now that the ruling is in, where are the criminal charges? This is not the first time that plunder in this former Belgian colony has been exposed or linked to the killing of Congolese people.
In 2003, a groundbreaking UN report named about 125 individuals and entities, including at least 16 from the UK, directly or indirectly involved in conflict minerals.
How many have faced criminal charges? Zero. Yet the cost has been devastating to the Congolese people. In 2003, about 2.2 million Congolese were displaced because of conflicts over minerals. Today that figure stands at 6.6 million scattered across the country in camps for internally displaced people.
According to the last mortality report by the International Red Cross in 2008 an estimated 1,100 people were dying each day from the conflict as well as the hunger and diseases accompanying it. In 2003, DRC ranked 167 in the UN’s human development index. It now ranks 175 out of 189 countries.
I fear that the Swiss ruling won’t change much when it comes to the killings or the use of rape as a weapon of war in DRC. Not least because the powerful and wealthy at the heart of this $380m corruption (more than DRC’s spending on healthcare last year) have no more been held accountable than they were during Kabila’s 18 years of “state capture”, when he used his country to serve the interests of his family and friends.
His chief of staff Vital Kamerhe has been convicted for embezzling almost $50m during Tshisekedi’s first 15 months. Former health minister, Oly Ilunga, was sentenced to five years in prison for embezzling more than $400,000 from the Ebola response funds. Minister Willy Bakonga has been jailed for corruption.
Tshisekedi has promoted some of Kabila’s henchmen, including Gen Gabriel Amisi, known as “Tango Four”, who is under EU, US and UN sanctions for, among other things, “obstructing the electoral process and human rights abuse” and Gen Charles Akili, known as “Mundos”, who is similarly under sanctions and is cited in several UN reports for his alleged role in machete killings in Beni.
Tshisekedi has created an anti-corruption body, IGF. Yet refuses to investigate Kabila’s loot, strangling democracy and investment in the country. DRC lost an estimated $300bn to corruption during Kabila’s reign; enough to lift more than 50 million Congolese people out of poverty. If he doesn’t face criminal charges at home and his corrupt friends and entities cannot face justice abroad, how does it end?
But there is hope. US president Joe Biden’s first action on corruption globally was on DRC. Two months after taking office, Biden unilaterally reimposed sanctions against Dan Gertler, an ally of Kabila, “to counter corruption and promote stability in the DRC”.
In his novel, Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad described King Leopold of Belgium’s bloody pillage of the Congo between 1885 and 1908, as “the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience”.
I will not hold my breath on the UK and EU – Kabila’s two friends – taking similar action on today’s deadly scramble for DRC’s loot.
A branch of Canada’s federal police force says it has spent the last decade conducting a “large-scale investigation” into allegations of sexual abuse at a former residential school.
On Tuesday, the Manitoba Royal Canadian Mounted Police said it launched a criminal investigation in 2011, investigating claims that students were assaulted during their time at the Fort Alexander residential school.
The rare disclosure of an ongoing investigation was prompted by questions from the Winnipeg Free Press newspaper.
“Due to the many people affected by this investigation as well as the larger social implications, it was determined to be in the public interest to provide as much information on the ongoing investigation as we can,” the RCMP said in its news release.
At least 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools across the country, which were funded by the federal government and run by churches as part of the campaign to strip the youth of their cultural identity.
The Fort Alexander residential school, 125km (78 miles) north-east of Winnipeg, opened in 1905. Children often tried to run away from the institution, according to the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre. In 1928, two boys drowned while trying to escape by boat.
It was closed by the federal government in 1970. Elders have long spoken about abuse within the institution, including testifying at the country’s truth and reconciliation commission.
More than 80 RCMP officers have been involved in the investigation so far, which has involved speaking to more than 700 people across North America.
Investigators travelled to Ottawa to scour archival records from the school, as well as the province of Manitoba’s records. They also canvassed residents in the area where the school was located, on the grounds of the Sagkeeng First Nation.
Police obtained 75 witness and victim statements.
Grand chiefs of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Southern Chiefs’ Organization have worked closely with police on the investigation, as have the chief and council of the Sagkeeng First Nation.
In addition to testimony of abuse, survivors have long said children went missing or died while attending the school.
Last week, teams searched the grounds of Sagkeeng First Nation using a drone and ground-penetrating radar technology to look for human remains.
The EU called on Tuesday on Lebanon political leaders to form a government without delay, following the nomination of businessman Najib Mikati as prime minister. “It is now of crucial importance that a credible and accountable government is formed in Lebanon without delay, one that is able to address the severe economic and social crises the country is facing,” the EU said in a statement.
MOSCOW (Sputnik) – A Boeing aircraft with 165 people on board is preparing for an emergency landing at Simferopol airport due to technical problems with its engine, an emergency services spokesperson said.
“A Boeing is preparing for an emergency landing in Simferopol, on board of which, according to preliminary information, there are 165 passengers,” the spokesperson said.
The aircraft, which performs a flight from Yakutia to Crimea, had vibration in one of the engines, he added.