In January 2018 the streets of Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, were awash with the blood of violent disturbances. The United Nations reported six fatalities in a string of clashes between the security forces and young residents of the city. The protesters’ ire was aroused by the refusal of the then-president, Joseph Kabila, to hold an election, even though his term of office had expired almost two years earlier.
An unusual figure was seen in Kinshasa’s streets in that volatile period: a man in the attire of an ultra-Orthodox Jew, hat on his head, suitcase in hand. According to documents obtained by TheMarker, on January 23, 2018, the man entered a Kinshasa branch of the Afriland First Bank. According to the documents, he deposited $1 million in the account of a local company called RDHADG SARLU, which had been established a few weeks earlier, with him registered as a director. According to the records, the next day he returned to allegedly deposit another $875,000. Two days later, he arrived a third time and allegedly deposited $926,000 more. According to the documents, all the deposits were made in cash.
The local tellers found it difficult to spell the name of the stranger carrying the suitcases. “Shono,” or “Mr. Shlono,” they named him at first. Afterward it became “Mr. Shlomo” or just “Shlomo.” Eventually, they learned how to spell his full name: Shlomo Eliahu Abihassira.
By June 2018, 14 other deposits by Shlomo Abihassira were recorded. According to the records, each time, he brought between $900,000 and $3 million, allegedly in banknotes. All told, $19 million worth of cash deposits that he allegedly made were registered in his name at the bank, of which $17 million went into the account of the same Congolese company: RDHADG. Approximately $1 million of the sum total, according to the records, were deposited by Abihassira in an account bearing his name, and another million went into the account of a local firm called Interactive Energy. Abihassira denies making any deposits at the bank.
The Rabbi and the billionaire
Shlomo Abihassira is a scion of an Israeli-Moroccan dynasty of kabbalists. His great-grandfather was Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzeira, known as the Baba Sali. His father, Rabbi David Abuhatzeira, was formerly chief rabbi of the northern Israeli city of Nahariya and today manages the affairs of one of the wealthiest rabbinic dynasties in Israel. A decade ago, Forbes estimated David Abuhatzeira’s fortune at 750 million shekels (about $202 million at the time). David is also the rabbi and confidant of a man who was one of the most powerful figures in the Congo at the time, the Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler, a resident of the largely Haredi city of Bnei Brak. In a country as rich in natural resources as the DRC, there is only one resource more valuable than the minerals themselves: a direct channel to those in power, a commodity Gertler undoubtedly possessed. Even the world’s largest mining companies had to go through Gertler to gain access to the country’s mines.
The relations between the rabbi’s family and the billionaire are more than those of spiritual mentor and acolyte. Among the Panama Papers – the documents leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists from the Panama-based international law firm Mossack Fonseca in 2016, which revealed the use by many businessmen of tax shelters – is a draft agreement, which was termed a consultancy contract, worth millions of dollars, between Shlomo Abihassira’s brother Yitzhak, and Gertler’s group of companies. The agreement’s existence was first reported by Uri Blau and Daniel Dolev in Haaretz.
Shlomo Abihassira was also a suspect in 2013 in a large-scale money-laundering case dubbed the "Art Affair," in which another suspect was one of Gertler’s lawyers, Avi Lavi – who left Israel just before the start of the police investigation, and did not return. No indictments have been filed in the case to this day.
Even the world’s largest mining companies had to go through Gertler to gain access to the country’s mines.
In December 2017, a month before the Baba Sali’s great-grandson allegedly began visiting the Afriland Bank in Kinshasa with large quantities of cash, the U.S. Treasury Department, as part of its war on international bribery, imposed sanctions on Gertler, one of his business associates and 14 companies linked to him. According to the directive, which was extended to additional companies in mid-2018, “Gertler has used his close friendship with DRC president Joseph Kabila” to become “a middleman” in “corrupt mining and oil deals” in the DRC. In addition, the U.S. government noted, “Gertler has acted for or on behalf of Kabila, helping Kabila organize offshore leasing companies.” The Treasury Department stated that “between 2010 and 2012 alone, the DRC reportedly lost over $1.36 billion in revenues” from the underpricing of mining assets as a result of Gertler’s actions.
As a consequence of the sanctions, Gertler is today anathema to many business entities. Any bank that wishes to operate in the United States is prohibited from providing services to Gertler in U.S. currency. Legally, there is nothing to prevent Gertler from receiving services from banks in other currencies. In practice, however, Israeli and other banks reject clients and payments that are linked to an entity or an individual on whom the United States has imposed sanctions. Within the sanctions framework, American citizens are prohibited from doing business with Gertler.
But while banks in Israel and elsewhere rejected financial transfers when they discovered that their source was Gertler, Afriland Bank in Kinshasa welcomed Gertler with open arms.
The investigation’s documents, which were first made available to the Paris-based human rights organization the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF) and to Global Witness, show that Abihassira has allegedly not been the only Gertler associate to show up at the bank with unusual amounts of cash. The documents, which were investigated by The Marker, the two organizations and other professionals as a part of a cooperative, international journalistic endeavor, also show how a series of associates, NGOs, lawyers and very senior media advisers in Israel and elsewhere received payments whose source allegedly lies in the alleged cash deposits associates and employees brought to the Afriland First branch. Documents made available to The Marker during the investigation show that banks in Israel were concerned that some of the transfers from accounts that are connected to Gertler at the Afriland Bank fit the definition of a “red flag” that elicits suspicion of money laundering.
"The investigation shows how easy it is for people with power and capital to exploit inefficient bank regulation, corporate confidentiality and legal tricks despite having been accused of corruption," says Gabriel Bourdon-Fattal of PPLAAF. "In Israel and outside it, regulators need to take significant steps to fix the weak points in the global financial system."
Sharks smelling money
Dan Gertler hails from one of the aristocratic families of Israel’s fading diamond industry. He is the grandson of Moshe Schnitzer, who established the Ramat Gan-based Israel Diamond Exchange, and the son of Hannah Gertler, who was both a socialite who established the philanthropic organization of diamond merchants’ wives and a businesswoman who invested in multiple technology, media and real estate ventures over the years.
The family gained fame in Israel partly in connection with a criminal drama in 1995, when Gertler’s sister, Keren (now Keren Dobrovitsky), was kidnapped by the criminal Avi Sapan and his daughter, in an attempt to obtain a $2-million ransom payment from the affluent family. The incident ended when Israel Police officers pumped 11 bullets into Sapan, killing him. Dan Gertler was around 20 at the time, ambitious and (still) secular, eager to prove that he, too, knew how to make big money. His foray into Africa began in those years, when the DRC was known as Zaire.
The First Congo War erupted in 1996 and brought about the removal of the longtime dictator of Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko, by militia forces under Laurent Kabila, the rebels’ leader. When the hostilities ended, Kabila declared himself president of the country, which he renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Second Congo War, which broke out about a year later and continued for five years, until 2003, is the deadliest conflict humanity has known since World War II. More than five million people lost their lives and millions more were wounded or became refugees. The war had various causes deriving from political and tribal conflicts, from vested interests of the countries that were involved in it – particularly Rwanda, Congo’s neighbor to the east – and from economic interests related to the mineral wealth in the DRC’s east and south. (The DRC is the world’s 11th-largest country in area – Israel could fit into it about 11 times.)
The cannons roared, the machetes slashed, homes burned and women were raped. Even as the smell of blood pervaded the unfortunate republic, some sharks in the area smelled money. Around 1998, the young Gertler landed in Kinshasa, driven by the goal to become close to the new president. His acquaintances share different versions of how he went about ingratiating himself with the ruling family, but what is not in dispute is that he succeeded.
To begin with, Gertler discerned the new government’s hunger for cash. For just $20 million, which he raised from acquaintances in the Israeli diamond industry, he received an exclusive permit to mine diamonds from the DRC. Subsequently he was also involved in Kabila’s efforts, which were not very successful, to acquire military know-how and weapons from Israel, as legal proceedings between him and security consultant Yossi Kamissa over the past decade have revealed. Eventually he found his place as one of the kingpins of the DRC’s mining industry, though not necessarily in diamonds.
Gertler became an essential station on the path of international companies seeking mining permits in the rich lands of the poor republic. This is especially the case in regard to cobalt, a mineral found in abundance in the DRC, and considered the new gold because of its extensive use in the manufacture of batteries, particularly for smartphones.
Gertler’s close ties with the ruling family in the Congo remained solid even after Laurent Kabila was assassinated by his bodyguard in 2001. His son, Joseph, succeeded him and headed the country for 17 years, until January 2019. During that period, he was elected president twice, in 2006 and in 2011, but he put off the election scheduled for 2016 for almost three years.
Joseph Kabila’s nearly two decades in power were Gertler’s golden years in the land lined with cobalt and flowing with blood. From a millionaire he became a multimillionaire and then a billionaire, and manifestly one of the people most closely identified with the government. According to reports he became a Congolese citizen, a diplomatic envoy for Kabila – and a target of law enforcement and anti-corruption agencies in the United States, Britain, Switzerland and Israel.
Joseph Kabila’s nearly two decades in power were Gertler’s golden years in the land lined with cobalt and flowing with blood. From a millionaire he became a billionaire, and manifestly one of the people most closely identified with the government.
In 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice and the New York-based hedge fund manager Och Ziff, which was involved in mining business in the DRC, signed a settlement agreement in which the company paid a fine of over $400 million for having bribed public officials in African countries, including the DRC. The agreed-upon indictment, to whose details Och Ziff admitted, states that between 2005 and 2015, through a person described as “DRC Partner,” as “an Israeli businessman whose identity is known to the United States” and as someone with “significant interests in the diamond and mineral mining industries in the [DRC],” the company paid around $100 million in bribes to senior figures in the Congolese government in order to obtain various mining permits, including for cobalt and copper. According to a court filing, Och Ziff was requested to pay the investors of Africo at least $150 million in compensation.
The latter owned the mining rights at a copper and cobalt mine called Kalukundi. The Congolese government revoked the mining license of Africo, and Gertler and Och Ziff eventually took control of rights to the mine for an alleged bargain price, as a part of a corrupt deal to which Och Ziff admitted.
In Britain, an investigation has been underway since 2013 into mining permits granted in the DRC to a Kazakh company, Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC). The firm, which was traded in the past on the London Stock Exchange, is controlled by the Jewish-Kazakh billionaire Alexander Machkevitch. At the center of the inquiry are payments of tens of millions of euros allegedly made to Gertler’s companies, with ENRC’s former lawyers raising the suspicion that the money was bribery given in return for mining rights. ENRC denied the allegations in response to various reports in the past. Since January, an investigation has been underway in Switzerland into suspicions of bribery around the mining permits granted to the multinational commodity trading and mining company Glencore and Gertler’s Congolese companies.
When President Joseph Kabila yielded to pressure and declared an election for December 2018, he said he would not seek another term of office. His chances were considered poor in any case. The candidate he supported lost. The new president, Félix Tshisekedi, has been moderate in his remarks about Gertler, but it’s not clear whether the latter’s businesses will continue to flourish as they did in the past. “There is no doubt that Gertler’s influence in the country has diminished since the Kabila period, and time will tell by how much,” says a European businessman who is active in Kinshasa.
Money deliveries to Israel
RDHADG, the company into whose account Abihassira deposited $17 million in cash, according to the documents, is only one of a series of new firms connected in different ways to Gertler and his associates that were established in Congo in the period around the imposition of the U.S. sanctions in 2017. The documents of the investigation show a string of 10 more companies controlled by a corporation called Gerco Sas, whose registered owners are Gertler’s wife and nine of their 12 children, some of them minors, in equal shares.
The United States automatically imposes sanctions on a company if 50 percent or more of its shares are held by an individual on whom it has imposed sanctions. This might be why officially Gertler himself is not a shareholder.
In most of the new companies, a Congolese citizen named Alain Mukonda is registered as a director. Like Abihassira, Mukonda, too, was seen at the Afriland Bank with unusual sums of cash, carried in suitcases. According to the records he was at the bank around 20 times, with amounts ranging from tens of thousands of euros to €1.7 million. All told, he was recorded depositing nearly €12 million. One million of the sum were, according to the records, deposited in April 2018 in an account bearing Abihassira’s name, and the rest to companies that Gertler does not deny he controls. Mukonda denies any cashdeposits were made, and claims that the documents attesting to the deposits are forgeries.
Most of the funds – more than €8 million – were earmarked for Ventora Global Services, one of the local companies Mukonda established in March 2018. The documents reveal that the company served as a launchpad for bank transfers of funds to various entities connected with Gertler, many of them in Israel.
The largest amount sent from the company’s account went to Israeli lawyer Avigdor (Dori) Klagsbald. The documents show that during 2018, €2.4 million was sent to Klagsbald’s account in several installments. Klagsbald may well be Israel’s best-connected lawyer. It’s hard to think of anyone else whose circle of friends includes past and present Supreme Court justices such as Anat Baron, Uzi Vogelman, his former law firm partner Yoram Danziger and current Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, alongside Mossad head Yossi Cohen, with whom Klagsbald maintains a close friendship, as recently revealed in a civil dispute.
Klagsbald’s list of clients begins with the State of Israel itself, which appointed him a mediator in the hugely complex arbitration proceedings with Iran involving the old Eilat-Ashkelon oil pipeline, and extends to American casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson, who owns the handout newspaper Israel Hayom, shipping and motor vehicle mogul Rami Ungar – and seems to go on indefinitely. Now, consider the road taken by the money on the way from client Gertler to the distinguished attorney.
Another top lawyer who received payments from the Congolese company is Boaz Ben Zur, who has represented Gertler in recent years. Ben Zur also represents, among others, former Israel Bar Association chairman Efi Naveh and Miki Ganor, the central suspect in the case of suspected corruption in Israel’s purchase of naval vessels from Germany. Between April and June 2018, €427,000 were forwarded to Ben Zur from the Congolese account of Ventora Global Services.
Attorney Eitan Maoz, the defense counsel in some of Israel’s most notable judicial cases – in recent years he represented the billionaire Lev Leviev and the convicted judge Dan Cohen – is also on the list of the beneficiaries from one of the company’s Afriland accounts. In May 2018 he was the recipient of €265,000.
A 2017 amendment to Israel’s Prohibition of Money Laundering Law requires lawyers and practitioners of other professions to fill out a “know your customer” form, and obligates them to consider whether the client’s behavior gives cause to a suspicion of money laundering. If it does, they must refrain from giving services to that client, and if nevertheless they do work with him, they must explain their decision in written form and keep the detailed, signed decision in their office. The three lawyers maintain that they followed these guidelines dutifully, and reported to banks in Israel that the source of the money they received was a company connected to Gertler.
A document made available to TheMarker shows how in one case, a compliance officer in an Israeli bank warned a client – a service provider to Gertler – that a partial or mendacious declaration constitutes an offense under the Prohibition of Money Laundering Law. After contemplating the matter, the service provider reported that the source of the money was a company under the effective control of Gertler. The Israeli bank refused to accept the transfer of funds, because Gertler is on the U.S. sanctions list, and the money was sent back to Kinshasa.
Another beneficiary of the Ventora Global Services account is the strategist Ronen Zur, who was Gertler’s media adviser until recently, and who was an adviser to Benny Gantz, today the alternate prime minister, during Israel’s last three election campaigns. In April-May 2018, the company sent €210,000 in three installments to Zur’s company, Zur Strategic Consulting and Campaign Management, in Ramat Gan.
In the Haredi world, Gertler is known primarily as a philanthropist, or “nagid” (Hebrew for “prince” or, for our purposes, a patron) and he is often referred to this way on Haredi gossip sites. The Congo documents attest to hefty monetary transfers to nonprofit organizations in Israel. Thus, €700,000 from Ventora Global Services’ account was sent to an NGO called Morasha Veda’at. Earlier reports in the Haredi press show this to be a kollel – a yeshiva for married men – in Bnei Brak, to whose students Gertler provided scholarships in the past. According to the organization’s filings with Israel’s NGO registry, four of the five recipients of its highest salaries are Shlomo’s brothers, four other sons of Rabbi David Abuhatzeira: Meir, Yehuda, Shimon and Yosef. Each is registered as “head of kollel,” with a salary of about 200,000 shekels ($53,000) a year each.
The amount of €1.1 million was sent from Ventora Global Services account to another nonprofit, Savanu Metuvach, which was established only at the beginning of 2017, and which during its first full year of operation, 2018, reported impressive revenues of 12 million shekels (about $3.5 million).
According to the documents, $40,000 were deposited by Mukonda, Gertler’s confidant, directly to the wife and three daughters of Pieter Deboutte, a Belgian-Congolese citizen who is one of Gertler’s business associates and the only other person named together with him in the U.S. sanctions order. During 2018, another $160,000 in cash was deposited, according to the records, in accounts bearing Deboutte family members' names, by the account’s owners. The same day, €32,000 was deposited into the account of Deboutte himself. An associate of Deboutte denied that money was deposited by Mukonda into accounts of the Deboutte family.
Lieberman’s lawyer, the Weinstein firm
From the Ventora Global Services account, €70,000 was allegedly sent to the account of attorney Yoav Mani, until not long ago the lawyer of the Yisrael Beiteinu party and a confidant of its leader, Avigdor Lieberman. Mani was questioned in the affair of the shell companies during the sprawling investigation that was conducted against Lieberman. Gertler’s part in the case concerns a half-million dollars that landed in the account of a foreign company called Mayflower, which the police suspected belonged to Lieberman, whose driver officially held the controlling interest in it.
In her Hebrew-language book “The Avigdor Lieberman Case,” attorney Avia Alef, who was head of the economic crimes department in the state prosecution and was slated to be the prosecutor in the case had it gone to court, states that a considerable number of the documents in the Mayflower affair were seized in Mani’s office. This, she notes, hindered the investigation of the company’s business transactions, as Mani claimed lawyer-client confidentiality for his two clients, Gertler and Lieberman.
Mani, it turns out, continued to be a recipient of payments by Gertler and remained Yisrael Beiteinu’s legal adviser until May 2018, when the money was sent to him. In a conversation with TheMarker, Mani refused to address a question regarding whether he had reported to his bank that Gertler’s companies were the source of the money.
RDHADG, the company into whose account Abihassira deposited $17 million, according to the documents, is only one of a series of new firms connected in different ways to Gertler and his associates that were established around the imposition of the U.S. sanctions.
It was the attorney general at the time, Yehuda Weinstein, who decided in 2012 to close the investigation into the shell companies, citing lack of evidence. Weinstein is now a private attorney in the law firm of Dror, Menchel and Weinstein, in which his daughter, Karin, is a partner. He joined the firm after finishing his role as attorney general. The former attorney general is listed on the firm’s stationery as an adviser to the firm. Two of the firm’s partners, Ophir Menchel and Ron Dror, are also connected with Afriland First accounts. Menchel opened an account in the bank in 2018, using Dror’s phone number on the registration forms.
An investigation by The Marker reveals that Menchel’s account was earmarked to receive a fee in an unknown amount for consultancy servicers to Gertler. The attempt to transfer funds to Israel was unsuccessful, as a foreign correspondent bank denied the transfer due to the sanctions against Gertler.
Weinstein’s decision to close the case of the shell companies in 2012 was probably the most controversial of his tenure as attorney general. About a year ago, Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s elder son, claimed in a tweet that Weinstein was appointed attorney general by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in 2009 in the wake of a demand put forward in the coalition negotiations by Lieberman, the chief suspect in the case at the time. The allegation was later denied by Lieberman, Weinstein and Yair Netanyahu’s father.
The picture that arises isn’t a pleasant one. It emerges that the firm in which Weinstein and his daughter constitute 40 percent of the lawyers (according to the firm’s staff list), is representing the person whose case was closed by Weinstein.
The records of the Ventora Global Services account also show money transfers to service providers outside of Israel that did work for Gertler. For example, tens of thousands of euros were transferred to the London-based PR firm Powerscourt. The law firm of Mishcon de Reya, also headquartered in London, received €130,000.
Caught with cash on a plane
At the end of 2017, before Mukonda founded Ventora Global Services, he was registered as a director in the similarly named company Ventora Development, which was previously incorporated in the British Virgin Islands under the name Fleurette Mumi Holdings. The company was placed on the U.S. Treasury’s sanctions list, but days before the list was published, it changed its name to Ventora Development and redomiciled to the DRC. The company’s account in Afriland First encountered no hindrances, despite the sanctions, albeit in euros rather than dollars.
At the beginning of 2018, Mukonda himself deposited, according to records, €2.4 million in cash in the Ventora Development account. Mukonda denies the deposits and claims the documents that attest to them are forgeries. In the months that followed, an additional €20 million entered the company’s account from various sources. Of this, about €18 million was received in connection with the Mutanda copper mine, in southeast Congo. The payments came from Glencore, the vast international commodities corporation, which operates the Mutanda mine. Glencore had undertaken in a contract to pay Gertler’s companies’ royalties from its mining activity. When the sanctions were imposed, Glencore halted the payments to Gertler for a quarter, and Gertler launched legal proceedings. The parties finally agreed that royalties of 2.43 percent from the mine’s sales would be paid in euros, not dollars, to Ventora Development, and this is what took place, according to the documents.
A few weeks later, the U.S. Justice Department announced that it was launching an investigation into Glencore’s behavior in the mining industry in several countries, including the DRC.
Two additional companies connected with Israel received substantial amounts from both Ventora Global Services and Ventora Development. During 2018, the Congolese companies transferred €1.1 million to the Israeli tourism company Med Cruises, whose principal business is pleasure cruises, along with a side business of renting private planes. According to reports in a number of gossip columns, Gertler has social ties with the company’s owner Anat Samovsky, and attended her daughter’s wedding in 2015.
Another company that was the recipient of funds from both of the Ventora companies managed by Mukonda is WayLawn, which has one private plane for rental and is incorporated in the British Virgin Islands. WayLawn received transfers of €227,000 in the first half of 2018.
The company’s name came up in the Panama Papers leak reported by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The documents revealed that the company was previously under the control of the Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer, who is the majority shareholder in the Israel Corporation, formerly Israel’s largest holding company; WayLawn maintained his executive jet. However, the company and its plane were sold in 2009 to two foreign companies that are also incorporated in tax havens.
TheMarker was able to confirm that the purchaser in the deal was the businessman Eytan Stibbe, a retired combat pilot who formerly had the most kills of enemy aircraft in the Israeli armed forces. Stibbe was a founder of the LR Group, which enjoyed close ties with Angolan authorities during and since the country’s civil war in the ‘90s. (Stibbe has since left that company.)
The two transfers are related, as TheMarker found out, to the leasing of a private plane in the period of the U.S. sanctions. According to a source in Gertler’s circle, one result of the sanctions was to bring about the temporary grounding of his private Bombardier plane, with which he plied the Israel-Congo route. The source related that the crew of the American plane resigned proximate to the imposition of the sanctions and that it took time to find a new crew.
In June 2018, Ventora Global Services transferred a sum of €370,000 to the Afriland Bank account of a company called BH Consulting. The BH Consulting account was registered in the bank with an Israeli phone number attached to it that belongs to a certain Aharon Cohen. Cohen, an employee of Gertler’s, was detained together with him in November 2013 by customs agents at Ben-Gurion Airport after they landed in Gertler’s private plane. The two were caught attempting to bring cash into Israel without reporting the funds to customs officials. They were carrying $120,000 in six brown paper envelopes, each containing $20,000. The episode ended with Gertler’s having to pay a fine.
The Afriland documents show cash deposits into accounts of two additional individuals close to Gertler. According to the registration, Gertler’s sister, Keren Dobrovitsky, visited the Afriland First branch twice, at the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, depositing €885,000 in two installments into an account bearing her name. An attempt to transfer €800,000 of that amount to the account of a company called Ivega DRC failed, and the money was returned to her account, according to the records.
The second associate is the Ashdod-based building contractor Zahi Abou, who recently made headlines when he purchased the gasoline distribution terminals of Delek Israel in Glilot, Jerusalem, Ashdod and Be’er Sheva from the tycoon Yitzhak Tshuva. The terminals, which cover a total area of hundreds of dunams, were sold for 720 million shekels (about $210 million). In March 2018, €4.2 million was deposited in an account bearing Abou’s name. The money was subsequently transferred to Israel, part of it to Otzar Group Investments, in which he holds the controlling interest. Abou later became a business partner of Gertler’s mother, Hannah Gertler. One of their jointly held companies is Nofech Urban Renewal, which is promoting a large construction project in Ashdod.
Money comes and goes
It's a reasonable assumption that by the time the U.S. Treasury gets around to looking at the unusual cash activity that arises from the Afriland Bank documents, the actions of the associates of the cobalt king from Bnei Brak will have shifted to a different bank.
An interesting phenomenon that arises from the documents is the movement of money – back and forth to the same person: One of Gertler’s associates comes to the Afriland bank, makes an alleged cash deposit to a certain account, and later receives part of the money back in different ways.
A case in point is the one with which we began, in which Shlomo Abihassira, the son of the Nahariya kabbalist, who deposited, according to the records, $19 million in cash, of which $17 million went into the account of a new Congolese company called RDHAGD. Thus, together with another $2 million which were registered as deposited in cash to the company’s account by a person whose identity is not revealed by the documents, RDHAGD had $19 million in its account beginning in March 2018.
According to the records, the entire amount of $19 million was transferred one morning in August 2018 to a person named Kalondo Kabamba. According to the documents, on that same day, August 14, Abihassira transferred $2 million from his private Afriland account to an account bearing Kabamba’s name. All told, then, Kabamba was the alleged recipient of $21 million. That same day it was registered that Kabamba deposited the exact same amount of $21 million in cash in the account of a company called Dorta Invest. In this way, the money, which originated with Abihassira, was allegedly moved into a new pocket. Between September 4 and September 6, the documents show, Abihassira received around $8 million back from the Dorta account in three payments.
The movement of money out of and back into the same pocket was also recorded in connection with Alain Mukonda; €2.1 of the money he allegedly deposited into the account of Ventora Global Services got back to him in July of that year.
Kabamba, the man who is on record depositing money into the Dorta account, appears from the documents to be another cash courier, connected to different transfers to Gertler’s associates. According to the records, in August 2018, he began making deposits into the Dorta account in amounts starting from $900,000. By the beginning of 2019, he had allegedly deposited around $32 million into the company’s account, which was augmented by another $27 million during the same period from various sources. Part of the money, $9.3 million, was sent, according to the records, to a company called K-Services, which is incorporated in Hong Kong. From there, all trace of it was lost.
One possible rationale for these movements of money is that as long as the money is in motion, it’s difficult to seize it or trace it. And if that’s the logic, it’s a reasonable assumption that by the time the U.S. Treasury Department gets around to looking at the unusual cash activity that arises from the Afriland Bank documents, the actions of the associates of the cobalt king from Bnei Brak will have shifted to a different bank.
Gertler: 'The documents are stolen and fabricated'
A response made on Dan Gertler's behalf said: "This is an unfounded report. Our investigations show that your paper is in possession of stolen documents, a considerable part of which has been fabricated. The fabrication touches upon cash deposits, which are at the heart of the claim against Mr. Gertler and in effect are the premise of the article. There is conclusive evidence showing that the people to whom the cash deposits were attributed (i.e. Mukonda and Shlomi Abihassira) were not in the Congo during the alleged dates of deposit. This joins additional evidence, including authentic account pages, forensic examinations of signatures and more. All these indicate that the claims about cash deposits made in order to evade sanctions are baseless."
The response also said that "all payments to service providers were made in Euros in accordance with the law. The publication of the article will lead to lawsuits – in England and in Israel – which will reflect the immense damage made to Mr. Gertler, to his good name and his businesses. The damage is estimated at tens of millions of pounds."
Shlomo Abihassira said in response: "While Mr. Gertler is a friend of my family, whom I know from my youth, we don't have a business relationship and we never had one. I have never made cash deposits to any company or account at Afriland Bank. I have never heard of a company named Interactive Energy. I have nothing to do with your claims with regard to Kalondo Kabamba, with whom I am not familiar. The information about the transfer of cash to the company Dorta Invest is incorrect. Payments were made by RDHAGD to Dorta in accordance with the contract between the two, but not in cash. Moreover, I received a loan from Dorta for the purpose of developing the businesses of RDHAGD, but the loan was later repaid. Contrary to your claims, the said transfers weren’t done in cash. All received payments were reported as required by the law in Israel and the Congo. The questions directed at me indicate theft of confidential bank information and an invasion of privacy. Meanwhile, some of the questions indicate that the documents you possess include distortions and fake data."
Alain Mukonda said in response: "Contrary to your claims, I did not deposit cash in the accounts at Afriland Bank. On some of the dates you mention I wasn't even in the Congo.
"I haven't deposited money in the accounts of Ventora Global or Ventora Development, of Pieter Deboutte or Shlomo Abihassira, and I was unaware that the latter deposited funds in the accounts related to Gertler.
"The corporate restructuring was planned and started to be executed, including the relocation of the businesses, before the sanctions were imposed, of which I, and others in the companies, had no notice or warning whatsoever.
"The restructuring had nothing to do with the sanctions. It was to re-locate the various businesses to the DRC where they were based, which also meant that taxes paid by them would be paid to the DRC.
"Greco SAS isn't owned by Gertler and his family. The payment related to the Mutanda mine was legitimate, was paid in Euros and was made pursuant to contractual obligations after the settlement of legal proceedings. The payments were made in a manner which complied with the applicable sanctions. All payments to companies were made against invoices and properly accounted for in the relevant company accounts, for services that were indeed provided."
A response made on Zahi Abou's behalf said: "The document on which your inquiry is based is fake. Mr. Abou's business activity in the Congo was and is legal, was reported to all the relevant authorities in accordance with the law and is unconnected to Mr. Gertler. Mr. Abou is an innocent leading businessman and he is a victim of a pressure effort by TheMarker, the purpose of which is to extort information about other figures."
Aharon Cohen said in response: "The BH company was in my sole ownership. The company received a legal loan from VENTORA. The loan was repaid in full after a few months, before the end of 2018. The company closed before the end of 2018. The funds were received in Euros. With regard to the plane incident that you mentioned, I was questioned and not interrogated. By the end of the process it was made clear that I did not break the law and I did not pay a fine."
The office of Dror, Menchel & Weinstein said in response: "We do not address issues related to clients, but we will note that former Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and attorney Karin Weinstein joined our firm a long time after it began representing Mr. Gertler."
The Waylawn company said in response: "Companies that operate private planes occasionally ask to use private planes against reimbursement of costs. It's reasonable to assume that in this case as well, a request was made to use a plane for a flight to Africa in return for payment. Had the company known that the source was subject to a boycott, the plane wouldn't have been leased."
Med Cruises said in response: "We have no information about Gertler's affairs or about the deposit of funds as is claimed in the article. Med Cruises provides flight and hospitality services to some of Gertler's companies. The company operates in accordance with the law. All expenses and services provided by the company are recorded in the company's books and are fully backed in a legal manner by invoices (should we be asked by official figures to prove this, we would.)"
The office of Eitan Maoz said in response: "Just like any payment that we receive, the fee mentioned in your inquiry was reported to the bank precisely as a payment made for Mr. Dan Gertler's legal representation. The payment in question was subjected to the full compliance procedures and was approved by the bank and its legal advisers in accordance with the law."
The office of Klagsbald & Co. said in response: "Since 2010 we have been representing Dan Gertler in various litigation proceedings. Over the course of a few months in 2018 the Congolese company Ventora Global Services paid our office a part of Mr. Gertler's fees. Upon receiving the first payment from the aforementioned company, we informed the bank that the funds were Mr. Gertler's fee. We gave the bank all the required details about the fee and the payments. We have also provided the bank with every detail they asked for regarding the fee and the payments. Additionally, we have answered questions posed by the bank, including about the ties between Mr. Gertler and the company. These facts are backed by documents that are in our possession."
Attorney Boaz Ben Zur said in response: "Our office has represented Mr. Gertler for years. Any payment, without exception, received by the office is paid for a legal service that has been provided. The details, including the final beneficiary, should one exist, are reported to the bank in full."
Zur Communications said in response: "We can't address the sums of the charges. The authorities were provided with the full details and the information required under the law that relates to the collection of the debt."
The NGOs Savanu Metuvach and Morasha Veda'at, attorney Yoav Mani and the Deboutte family didn't provide comment.