The UK has been linked to Congo’s ‘conflict minerals’ – where are the criminal charges?

一种ccording 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, 之间 2006 和 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.

在 2003, 一种 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. 在 2003, 关于 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. 在 2003, DRC ranked 167 in the UN’s human development index. It now ranks 175 在......之外 189 国家.

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.

DRC’s new president Felix Tshisekedi, who also came to power after electoral fraud organised by Kabila, is publicly positioning himself as an anti-corruption tsar.

His chief of staff Vital Kamerhe has been convicted for embezzling almost $50m during Tshisekedi’s first 15 月. 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, 包括 Gen Gabriel Amisi, known as “Tango Four”, who is under EU, US and UN sanctions for, 除其他事项外, “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.

Unsurprisingly, violence as well as displacement has increased and the numbers facing starvation have risen above 27 million, up from 13 million in 2019 when Tshisekedi became president.

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 和 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.

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