Graft costs Congo $7.3b in assets

By Daniel Howden

International donors have been accused of turning a blind eye to the corrupt fire sale of the mineral wealth of the Democratic Republic of Congo in advance of next week's election in the blighted Central African nation.

Documents disclosed by a British MP indicate that the DRC, one of the poorest countries in the world, has lost US$5.5 billion ($7.3 billion) in state assets in a series of secret mining deals overseen by President Joseph Kabila.

Some of the country's richest publicly owned mines were sold off for a fraction of their market value to offshore shell companies operating out of the British Virgin Islands during the past four years.

The sale of the concessions - one of which went for a sixteenth of its value - was not announced and no other bids were invited. The fire sale comes despite the Congolese Government's commitments to international lenders. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved US$551 million in loans to the DRC two years ago, conditional on greater transparency in the mining sector.

British MP Eric Joyce, who chairs the all-party African Great Lakes Group, said: "The people of the DRC are losing their natural wealth, tax revenues and jobs because the IMF and governments around the world will not enforce the agreed benchmarks made on Kabila's Government."

The DRC, suffering from decades of civil war, has mineral assets of US$20 trillion. The lost funds amount to US$80 for every person in the country - much more than the entire international aid budget for the country, which is valued at US$3.1 billion. Western aid accounts for half the DRC's budget.

"This is big news that should have a serious impact on budgetary aid to the Congo and in donors' attitudes in general," said Congo analyst Jason Stearns.

Modeste Bahati Lukwebo, head of the audit board of the National Assembly's economic and financial committee, said he was being kept in the dark by state-owned mining firms and the Government, which has refused to comment.

Kabila, who came to power after a decade ago, faces a strong opposition challenge at the polls on November 28. He changed the constitution earlier this year to avoid a run-off against a unified opposition candidate.

- Independent

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