Gertler's Congo Oil Companies Part of U.S. Probe Into Och-Ziffby
U.S. authorities request documents from Gertler companies
Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca asked to submit records
U.S. authorities asked Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca to submit the corporate records of two companies controlled by Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler with oil licenses in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as part of a probe into Och-Ziff Capital Management Group LLC, documents show.
In an August 2015 letter, British Virgin Islands Attorney-General Baba Aziz asked Mossack Fonseca to provide “official and complete records” relating to three of its clients, Foxwhelp Ltd., Caprikat Ltd. and Tremalt Ltd. The letter is one of 11.5 million documents known as the Panama Papers leaked last year to the German paper Süddeutsche Zeitung and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism. It was published April 25 by the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism in South Africa, an ICIJ partner.
British Virgin Islands-registered Caprikat and Foxwhelp are wholly owned by the Fleurette Group, a company controlled by Gertler. The companies control oil blocks 1 and 2 on Lake Albert along Congo’s border with Uganda. The blocks were previously claimed by Tullow Oil Plc, which owns adjacent blocks on the Ugandan side, and then Divine Inspiration Group Ltd., a South African group. Tullow initially brought legal proceedings against Caprikat and Foxwhelp and the Congolese government, challenging the state’s 2010 decision to award the blocks to the British Virgin Islands-registered companies, before dropping the cases in 2011 without a settlement.
The third company, Tremalt, controlled copper and cobalt assets in Congo’s southeastern Katanga region. Documents published by amaBhungane show that Mossack Fonseca resigned as Tremalt’s registered agent in 2009, at which point the company was owned by Gibraltar-registered Prairie (International) Ltd., a business that has been linked to Gertler.
Neither Fleurette nor Gertler is mentioned by name in Aziz’s letter, and Caprikat, Foxwhelp and Tremalt aren’t accused of any wrongdoing.
The office of the attorney-general in the British Virgin Islands didn’t respond to a telephone message left with Aziz’s secretary requesting comment. Mossack Fonseca didn’t respond to e-mailed request for comment sent to its communications agency. Fleurette declined to comment when contacted by phone.
Aziz specified that Mossack Fonseca should provide all records on the companies from 2005 to the present after a request from U.S. authorities under a treaty between the two countries for mutual assistance in criminal matters.
Och-Ziff has been under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Dept. since 2011, according to a 2014 regulatory filing. The company said U.S. authorities were investigating possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act relating to several investments in Africa, without specifying which ones. Aziz’s letter didn’t indicate whether the request by the U.S. was related to the SEC or Justice Dept. investigation into Och-Ziff. The press office at the U.S. Department of Justice didn’t respond to e-mailed set of questions.
Congo pumps about 25,000 barrels of oil per day from offshore blocks in the Atlantic Ocean. It’s seeking to increase national crude production and since 2006 has issued new prospecting licenses in other parts of the country including Lake Albert on its eastern border with Uganda. In 2014, Oil of DR Congo, which operates the licenses on behalf of Caprikat and Foxwhelp, said the blocks contained as much as 3 billion barrels of oil and announced it was looking for a partner to develop the deposit.
Fleurette also controls stakes in copper, cobalt and gold projects in the country, including two joint-ventures with Glencore Plc.