Washington, DC — Experts Recommend Banks Maintain Blocks on Gertler-Linked Assets and Transactions
In a secret, last-minute action, the Trump administration gave Israeli mining tycoon Dan Gertler and his businesses a license to, in effect, nullify sanctions previously imposed by the US Department of the Treasury. The Sentry is urging banks to maintain blocks on transactions and assets linked to Gertler and his network of businesses and affiliates.
Brad Brooks-Rubin, Managing Director of The Sentry , and a former US Treasury Department sanctions attorney, said: "The issuance of a specific license to a designated individual as an end-run around a delisting, general license, or other public statement, absent any discernible intelligence or national security rationale, threatens the integrity, implementation, and impact of economic sanctions programs as a whole. In particular, for a sanctions designation issued specifically for corrupt and secretive activities in the DR Congo and elsewhere, to have been privately undercut under a cloud of haste and secrecy at the very end of the Trump administration strikes a terrible blow to the heart of one of the most lauded and effective anti-corruption programs of the last decade."
Gertler is an international businessman and billionaire who amassed a fortune through hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of opaque and corrupt mining and oil deals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), according to official Treasury statements. The sanctions were imposed by the Treasury Department 's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) through Executive Order 13818, pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Act , which targets serious human rights abuse and corruption.
After years of extensive lobbying, which reportedly included working with well-known lawyers close to former President Trump, Dan Gertler and much of his network received a license from OFAC, based on an application prepared by one of DC's most prestigious law firms, just days before the end of the Administration.
John Prendergast, Co-Founder of The Sentry , said: "Gertler has looted the DRC for years. Finally, he faced some measure of accountability due to US sanctions, which had the knock-on effect of affecting the calculations of his main business partner, President Joseph Kabila, sufficiently to influence him not to alter or defy the Constitution and run for a third term. In literally one of its last actions, the Trump administration reversed that initiative and put at risk one of its most unheralded accomplishments in Africa. This is something the Biden administration can quickly remedy with the requisite political will."
Sasha Lezhnev, Deputy Director of Policy at The Sentry , said: "Letting Dan Gertler off the hook sends a message to the world's most corrupt businesspeople that the US will let them walk free after a bit of lobbying. It greatly undermines US global anti-corruption policies. The Biden administration should revoke this effective pardon for Gertler and his companies so that Global Magnitsky sanctions can continue to help roll back the tide of corruption in the DR Congo and beyond."
This license, which was issued extraordinarily quickly for OFAC, appears to have been granted without the involvement or consultation of many of the career officers who would normally review and approve such a license, though signed by OFAC's director, as required.
The license does not remove Gertler and his network from the sanctions list, but it effectively undermines the sanctions by (i) allowing all transactions and activities moving forward with Gertler and his network and (ii) authorizing a group of named banks and financial institutions to unblock, i.e. unfreeze, any accounts/funds/property they have held. The license shows that, in the end, the firm helping Gertler was one of DC's biggest and most prestigious.
The Sentry makes the following critical recommendations to banks and financial institutions around the world:
- The eight named financial institutions (AIG, on behalf of AIG Europe Limited, Netherlands; American Express Travel Related Services Company Co. Inc.; Bank of China Limited; Bloomberg LP; Citibank NA; Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas; Bank of New York Mellon; and Wells Fargo Bank National Association) should decline to unblock and return funds of Dan Gertler, any designated individual or entity in his network, or any other entity 50% owned or controlled by Gertler or his network. Gertler and the individuals and entities in his network remain designated, and the risk of being connected to corrupt or illicit financial activity is simply too high for otherwise reputable institutions to take the extreme step of unblocking funds in response to a license issued under, at best, dubious circumstances.
- Neither these institutions nor any other should open accounts or otherwise conduct transactions for or on behalf of Gertler and his network until this matter is fully investigated and resolved.
About The Sentry
The Sentry is an investigative and policy team that follows the dirty money connected to African war criminals and transnational war profiteers and seeks to shut those benefiting from violence out of the international financial system. By disrupting the cost-benefit calculations of those who hijack governments for self-enrichment, we seek to counter the main drivers of conflict and create new leverage for peace, human rights, and good governance. The Sentry is composed of financial investigators, international human rights lawyers, and regional experts, as well as former law enforcement agents, intelligence officers, policymakers, investigative journalists, and banking professionals. Co-founded by George Clooney and John Prendergast, The Sentry is a strategic partner of the Clooney Foundation for Justice.