New Delhi: The investigation into a multi-million dollar embezzlement scandal involving former Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) President Joseph Kabila by a global consortium of media and NGOs has shed light on the role allegedly played by a businessman of Indian origin based in the DRC, Harish Jagtan.
The Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAF), a Paris-based anti-corruption group, and the French publication Mediapart has obtained more than 3.5 million documents detailing nearly 10 years of transactions within BGFI Bank Groupe SA, one of Africa’s largest banks.
A consortium of media and non-governmental organizations coordinated by European Investigative Collaborations (EIC) investigated and analyzed the information for more than six months. Thread is one of the media partners of the collaboration.
The leak, called the Congo Hold-up, is the largest ever leak of financial records from Africa and shows how at least $ 138 million in public funds were embezzled between 2013 and 2018. It details how public funds in Congo were transferred via the Congolese subsidiary of BGFI. and visited companies and accounts held by relatives and allies close to Kabila. Several questionable transfers were also made to Jagtani, although he insists the funds received were for legitimate purposes.
Jagtani owns several businesses in DR Congo, including real estate companies, an air freight company, and hospitals. According to surveys conducted by media partner Radio France International (RFI), Jagtani benefited from funds from Congo’s central electoral body, the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), and were intended for the organization of the 2011 elections. in this Central African country.
Originally from Jaipur, Jagtani arrived in Congo in 1995. He was a man of modest means at the time and worked as an employee in an import company run by an Indian trader. Back home, her mother was a schoolteacher.
However, during his 25 years in the DRC, he has grown considerably and is now one of the most influential businessmen in the country. Jagtani owns one of the largest air cargo companies in Congo, the real estate company with the most prominent projects on its list, a super-specialized hospital in the capital Kinshasa, and is known to be close to Kabila.
Kabila was president of the DRC from 2001 to 2019 before resigning and ceding power to President Félix Tshisekedi. The political alliance between the two leaders broke this year.
“It is well known in Congo that Harish Jagtani is very, very close to Kabila,” said a former employee of one of Jagtani’s companies in Congo. Thread, asking for anonymity. “Jagtani’s businesses have a lot of advantages because of his relationship with Kabila and he gets away with illegalities of all kinds.”
Harish and his wife Sunita ‘Neha’ Jagtani appear share a link with Kabila and his wife Olive Lembe di Sita. Sita was seen at a birthday party the Jagtani threw for Harish’s birthday in 2015 at their lavish home in Jaipur.
In one of the photos, Sita and Neha pose together with a large framed collage of their photos. Kabila does not appear in any of the photos.
Perhaps the testimony of the relationship is a glorious 16-story tower in the heart of Kinshasa built by Jagtani and called “Kiyo Ya Sita”. Sources told RFI last year that the tower is dedicated to Sita.
Kabila and Jagtani have denied having any links between them.
According to research by ‘Congo Hold-up’, the funds that Jagtani is now accused of embezzling with the help of Kabila, were channeled through BGFI’s subsidiary in Congo, BGFI RDC.
“Congo Hold-up is the biggest sensitive data leak in African history,” said Henri Thulliez, director of PPLAAF. “It details the tricks used by the bank and its clients to cover up endemic corruption, and the loopholes in the international banking system that allow such transactions. Bank transactions, e-mails and business records form a perfect manual on how a kleptocracy works.
The BGFI is one of the largest banks in Central Africa and the BGFI DRC counts among its senior leaders several close and close to Kabila.
The bank was also accused embezzle public funds in the past too. In fact, in an interview with the consortium, he was described as a “mafia bank” by Jules Alingete Key, the top Congolese anti-corruption official.
The investigation showed how Kabila, who ruled an autocratic regime in Congo for 18 years from 2001 when he was only 29, and his relatives, accumulated millions of wealth by siphoning off money. public with the help of BGFI RDC.
Although endowed with immense natural resources, the Congo is a of the poorest countries in the world with more than 70% of its population survivor with less than $ 2 a day. Research suggested that under Kabila’s rule, poverty levels may have increased even as Kabila and his family got richer.
The research under “Congo Hold Up” details how Kabila and his associates amassed wealth with the help of BGFI RDC.
The Congo subsidiary of BGFI was created in 2010 in Kinshasa. Kabila’s adoptive brother, Selemani Francis Mtwale, was appointed president of BGFI DRC in 2012. Former president Gloria Mteyu’s sister held 40% of the bank’s shares.
Much of the embezzled money, according to the investigation, was funneled to front companies of BGFI. It also included millions deposited in cash for the benefit of Kabila and his relatives.
At the center of the alleged financial irregularity are three of Jagtani’s companies – Modern Construction, his real estate company; Air Services, the air freight company; and Financial and Real Estate Industry (IFI), a financial and real estate company founded by Jagtani in partnership with Pascal Kinduelo, close to the Kabila family and who was also Chairman of the Board of Directors of BGFI at the time.
In early 2011, well before the legislative elections of November 2011, Jagtani’s companies opened bank accounts in the BGFI, then run by Kabila’s family. Heading the board was Kinduelo, Jagtani’s new business partner – also close to Kabila.
According to RFI surveys, nearly $ 4.5 million was transferred by the Congolese electoral commission CENI to Services Air, of which $ 4.3 million was transferred via the BGFI. In the past, too, there have been accusations that the company has been paid ‘astronomical’ amounts by the CENI.
Although according to documents obtained by the “Congo Hold Up”, only about $ 1.5 million was used for fuel purchases, $ 800,000 was withdrawn in cash and the rest transferred to Modern Construction, Jagtani denied. this in its response to the consortium.
The documents also reveal that these transfers to Modern Construction were often made on the same day Services Air received the funds from the CENI.
Jagtani admits that no contract was signed with the CENI and instead, purchase orders were signed whenever the commission needed to transport election materials and needed Air Service services.
Jagtani also claims that nearly US $ 1 million was transferred by Air Services to Modern Construction and IFI as business-to-business loans for “various services” that these companies provided to CENI, without specifying what the “services” were. provided included. According to him, $ 830,000 went to Modern Construction and $ 100,000 to IFI,.
The remainder, he says, about $ 3.5 million, was used to “buy fuel, pay for aircraft leases and various taxes.”
However, a 2015 CENI report noted that there are no contracts or invoices to explain the transfers that were made.
In addition to the CENI transfer, “Congo Hold Up” also found that a total of around $ 7.5 million in questionable transfers were made to Modern Construction between January 2011 and April 2015.
Almost $ 2 million is paid in cash and over $ 2 million is due to “clerical errors”, which implies that the money was transferred in “error”. There are also transfers from accounts that were in the Swiss bank Claridien Leu, which was also accused of obscure agreements in the past.
One of the transfers amounted to $ 840,000 and came from “Kamal Nandlal Rawtani and Rhea”. Kamal Rawtani is Jagtani’s brother-in-law and Jagtani explains that the amount was transferred for the sale of land, without giving further details.
Loans as a source of funds
Part of the $ 27.5 million that was transferred to Modern Construction is due to loans and lines of credit granted by BGFI.
In February 2011, BGFI RDC granted a $ 2.5 million line of credit to Modern Construction. That line of credit was multiplied by 10 seven months later when a $ 25 million line of credit was granted to Jagtani’s company. It is between these two granting of credit lines that IFI was formed with Jagtani and Kinduelo as partners.
The line of credit was accompanied by guarantees: A building with an appraised value of $ 19.88 million, an escrow account equal to one month of estimated cash flow and an irrevocable domiciliation of monthly revenues up to $ 4 million .
Perhaps the most surprising collateral that was provided was a $ 10 million deposit in an escrow account. For this, 5 million dollars was transferred from Services Air and the rest came from a company called Overseas Juline Ltd based in the tax haven Mauritius.
The director of the company is a certain Nazim Charania who has close ties with Congo and Jagtani. Like Jagtani, Charania also immigrated to Congo in the second half of the 1990s and worked in the informal trade sector. It was there that he met Jagtani, Sajid Dhrolia and Salim Kamani. Dhrolia, Kamania and Charania, who are also from India, started a business called SNS.
One of the partners, Dhrolia, is also a partner of Jagtani in Modern Constructions, holding 25% of the shares. Jagtani has denied any connection between his partnership with Dhrolia and the money transferred under the bank guarantee. “The partnership was personal with Sajid Dhrolia who was a minority partner. This partnership ended in 2015, ”he said.
The line of credit itself came to an abrupt end in June 2012. Eventually, of the $ 25 million that was to be provided to Modern Construction, it received only $ 11 million.
The reason for the end of the credit line is noted in an internal report of the bank of December 2012. Several departments within the BGFI, including the compliance department, raised objections to the maintenance of the credit line. They noted that there was a lack of “reliability as to the origin of funds” with regard to Jagtani’s accounts held by the bank.
In particular, they point out that the guarantees provided by Modern Construction for the line of credit went well beyond the amount of the credit. He also said that the origin of much of the money Jagtani invested was not known.
In his response to “Congo Hold Up,” Jagtani notes that the $ 10 million guarantee provided by his company for the line of credit was funded by lines of credit from other banks. He claims that this is a “classic financial transaction” and that any reference to money laundering is “defamatory”.