The Independent has been running a ‘Save the Elephants’ campaign for a couple of months. To mark today’s London conference on the same theme, the paper’s run a piece thanking donors to the paper’s ‘Elephant Appeal’. The donor who gets by far the biggest name check – the last three paragraphs, indeed – is a man called Dan Gertler.
Here’s what the Independent’s had to say about Gertler recently: “Dan Gertler has come to represent the personification of all that is wrong in the Western stampede for diamonds, copper and precious minerals in Africa”. If you fancy more, simply google Dan Gertler and pick a few articles out. Here’s one about how he allegedly uses his wealth to help fund West Bank settlements.
Dan Gertler has made hundreds of millions, possibly even billions, of dollars from one country - the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He is a very close friend of that country’s president and has acted as a buyer, at absurdly low prices, of many mineral assets stripped from their owners by the state. The assets, mainly mining and oil extraction rights, have typically been passed through Gertler-controlled British Virgin Island ‘shell-companies’, then quickly sold on for fabulous multiples of the original purchase price. This DRC-government practice led to the IMF suspending assistance to the DRC, and has also made it very hard indeed for international companies to consider serious investment in the DRC.
Just over two years ago, I posted a list of deals involving Gertler-associated companies in this way which, over a fairly short period of time, amounted to a total value of $5.5 Billion. In large part, this figure represents money forgone by the people of the DRC. I raised the matter in the House of Commons many times and UK prime minister David Cameron articulated his deep personal concern. One immediate outcome of all of this was the settlement of a dispute between two mining companies - one paid the other $1.2Billion – following a Gertler purchase and sale. Here’s the independent’s extensive report on the matter. And here’s a recent statement by transparency NGO Global Witness’, which campaigns on the subject.
I could write much more here but I’m hoping that the Independent has simply made a terrible mistake it will now rectify, so I’ll keep this short for now.
It’s enough to say, I think, that the money the paper has taken, ostensibly to help elephants in the DRC, should be in the Treasury of the DRC and not an Indy bank account; undoubtedly well-intentioned though the Indy Elephant Campaign is. The donation is transparently a stunt. The Indy should either return the money or, better still, give it back to the people of the DRC.
Let’s see what happens.