Published on Tuesday, October 22, 2002 by the Guardian/UK
Multinationals in Scramble for Congo's Wealth
by Rory Carroll, Africa correspondent and agencies
Dozens of multinationals including Barclays Bank, De Beers and Anglo American have been accused of facilitating the plunder of the Democratic Republic of Congo's wealth in a scathing UN report published yesterday.
An independent panel of experts reported to the UN security council that 85 multinational companies based in Europe, the US and South Africa had violated ethical guidelines in dealing with criminal networks which have pillaged natural resources from the war-torn central African country.
According to the panel, a scramble for gold, diamonds, cobalt and copper by army officers, government officials and entrepreneurs from Congo and neighboring African countries had generated billions of dollars which found its way to mining companies and financial institutions.
The panel did not detail the accusations against the 85 multinationals but said it had evidence that they violated OECD ethical guidelines, to which Britain was a signatory. The British government will be expected to take action because 12 of the companies are registered in Britain.
"Home governments have the obligation to ensure that enterprises in their jurisdiction do not abuse principles of conduct that they have adopted as a matter of law," said the 59-page report.
The panel's report accuses a Zimbabwean businessman of procuring military equipment from BAE Systems (part of the former British Aerospace) in violation of European sanctions. The report named John Bredenkamp as a key investor in the Aviation Consultancy Service Company, which represents BAE Systems. The report alleges that he offered to mediate sales of British Aerospace military equipment to Congo. The panel said he procured aircraft parts for Zimbabwe, which was propping up the Kinshasa government.
"Mr Bredenkamp's representatives claimed that his companies observed European Union sanctions on Zimbabwe but British Aerospace spare parts for Hawk jets were supplied early in 2002 in breach of those sanctions," the report said.
The publication of the report caught several of the multinationals by surprise and they scrambled to obtain copies.
A Barclays spokesman said: "We have not yet seen a copy of the report . . . but I can assure you that we take our ethical responsibilities extremely seriously and apply high standards of business conduct across our operations worldwide."
De Beers declined to comment until it had seen the report and Anglo American did not return calls. The other British-registered companies were Afrimex, Mineral Afrika, Euromet, Das Air, A Knight International, A&M Minerals and Metals, Alex Stewart, Arctic Investment and Amalgamated Metal Corporation.
François Grignon, the central Africa director for the research organization International Crisis Group, welcomed the report's targeting of multinationals. "Even providing a bank account to those who are exploiting the resources is a substantive role," he said. "The corporations must accept responsibility. They benefit more from this dirty business than those doing the digging and mining."
The report named an additional 29 companies and 54 individuals, mostly African and Belgian, which it said were directly involved in the plunder and should be considered for financial restrictions.
The five-member panel had Egyptian, Canadian, American, Belgian and Senegalese members, and British and Swiss technical advisers. It was mandated by the security council to investigate the scramble for Congo's resources in the wake of four years of war which left 2 million dead.
Some of the report's harshest criticism was leveled at officials from several African countries who stayed in Congo after peace deals led to the official withdrawal of outside forces. The list of the accused is a roll call of top military officers, government officials and businessmen, including the Rwandan army's chief of staff, James Kabarebe, Zimbabwe's parliament speaker, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and Uganda's army chief of staff, Major General James Kazini.
"The elite networks derive financial benefit through a variety of criminal activities, including theft, embezzlement, diversion of public funds, undervaluation of goods, smuggling, false invoicing, non-payment of taxes, kickbacks to public officials and bribery," the report said.
So lucrative and elaborate was the looting that there were attempts to prolong the fighting by stirring conflict between rival militias and rebels. "Those [criminal] groups will not disband voluntarily. They have built up a self-financing war economy centered on mineral exploitation," the panel said.
Rwanda's claim to have stayed in Congo to hunt the Hutu interahamwe militia responsible for the 1994 genocide was described as a cover for its army's desire to strip minerals. The report even claimed that Rwanda had collaborated with its enemies. It cited a letter from Jean-Pierre Ondekane, a senior pro-Rwandan official, urging all army units to maintain good relations "with our interahamwe and Mayi-Mayi brothers", and "if necessary to let them exploit the sub-soil for their survival".
Companies under the spotlight
British-registered firms accused of violating business ethics in Congo
Afrimex Exports coltan, an ore essential for making most electronic goods, such as mobile phones
A. Knight International Ltd
Based in Merseyside, weighs, tests and examines metals, a process known as assaying
A & M Minerals and Metals Ltd Based in London, trades metallurgical raw materials worldwide. Ships non-ferrous scrap and residues
Alex Stewart Ltd Specialist in assaying
Amalgamated Metal Corp Holding company of AMC Group, operates in 15 nations. Supplies raw materials, steel, chemicals and coltan. Total sales of £1.5bn in 1998/99
Anglo American Plc Mining and natural resources conglomerate, owned by the Oppenheimers, formed in 1998 when Anglo American Corp merged with Minorco, moving from Johannesburg to London. Beyond the precious minerals market, company interests include construction (LTA), financial services (FirstRand), explosives (AECI), wine (Vergelegen) and forestry (Mondi). Also holds a 45% share in De Beers
Arctic Investment Investment firm in Europe and Africa
Barclays Bank Active in Africa for over a century, with offices across Africa, but not in Congo. Declares mission to become Africa's leading bank. Donates millions to community projects but image tarnished by apartheid boycott in the 1980s. Lawsuit filed from former employee claiming it exploited black workers in South Africa
Das Air Airline's motto: we deliver. Operates at Gatwick, serves Africa, Middle East, US and India. Named best cargo operator 1999 by Nigerian federal airport authority. Has interline services with Air Gabon, Scibe, Monarch, and Air Yemenia
Euromet Trades in coltan in the Great Lakes region. Was named in International Peace Information Service report into coltan exports from Congo
Mineral Afrika Ltd Mines and exports natural resources from Africa to Europe
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002