NEW YORK (VINnews) — A significant number of human rights groups from Congo and abroad have urged the Biden administration to reconsider a reprieve on sanctions which was granted to Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler during the final days of the Trump administration.
The US Treasury Department sanctioned Gertler, a chareidi resident of Bnei Brak who is involved in diamond and copper mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in December 2017 and June 2018. According to the Treasury, Gertler was granted deals worth more than a billion dollars thanks to his friendship by the DRC’s former President Joseph Kabila. The US claims that these deals enabled Gertler to deprive the DRC of $1.4 billion in tax revenues over the past decade.
Former president Donald Trump removed the sanctions during his last week in office in accordance with a license granted to him by the US Treasury. The sanctions were only temporarily lifted by Trump. According to The Economist and New York Times, Gertler was granted a special license which allows him to use American dollars to “do almost anything, for a year.”
However many human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Oxfam have protested even this reprieve and called on current Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to reverse this.
“We urge the Biden administration to immediately investigate this last-minute license, and, subject to relevant information, reverse its decision. The US needs to ensure that the proceeds of alleged corruption are not being accessed and unblocked during the transition, or for political motives,” they wrote.
The group added that the license set a dangerous precedent for US sanctions on human rights offenders, thwarting “the critical, challenging, and sometimes dangerous work of Congolese and other civil society organizations and activists.”
Democratic senators Cory Booker, Ben Cardin and Dick Durbin joined the calls on Yellen to cancel Gertler’s license.
Gertler was barred from doing business with US citizens, companies or banks due to the sanctions, although he maintains he did no wrong and that his investments in the DRC boosted local development.
Gertler, who was born into a secular family but later became chareidi, is known in the community as a generous donor who focuses his giving on the needs of yeshiva students and chareidi families. He used to hold an open house at his Bnei Brak home on the holiday of Purim, handing out envelopes containing donations for members of the community in need. In recent years, Gertler switched to a more organized philanthropic system and began sponsoring gifts for chareidi families whose children have reached bar mitzvah or are getting married. He also launched a program aimed at helping yeshiva students pay for dental care.