Over the past few years, the world has been closing in on Dan Gertler, the Jewish “convert” to ultra-Orthodox Judaism and Congo mining magnate. Before then, Gertler was a kingpin in that African nation. He bought huge mining concessions earning billions. In order to obtain those concessions, he handed out bribes worth hundreds of millions to the country’s key power brokers. Among them was then-President Joseph Kabila, who’d led the country for the past 20 years. News reports confirm that the Israeli paid Kabila alone $360-million between 2006-2010. In addition, he served as the president’s informal wealth manager, which meant that he figured out how to launder these ill-gotten gains so they wouldn’t arouse the attention of western authorities.
During the early years of the Kabila regime, a civil war raged in the country between factions allied with Rwanda, Uganda and other powers. Gertler recruited senior Israeli officials like then Mossad chief, Meir Dagan to help supply weapons and Israeli ex-generals to train the Presidential Guard fighting on behalf of the central government against the rebels. At another point, Kabila sent an astonishing letter to then-Pres. George Bush appointing Gertler as his personal representative for talks between the US and Congo. Exploiting such a recommendation to the hilt, the Israeli magnate scored a meeting with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice at which they mapped out an agreement to end the Congolese civil war.
Gertler’s rapacious exploitation of the country’s resources to enrich himself was a continuation of Congo’s sordid colonial history, in which Belgium not only extracted its wealth from the ground, but also engaged in one of the worst genocides known to man up till that time. King Leopold killed up to half of the country’s 20-million people, virtually enslaving them in order to obtain the rubber, copper and diamonds he sought. Ironically, as part of the original agreement giving Gertler the diamond concession, he was permitted to maintain his own security force that operated outside the bounds of official law enforcement. This is another echo of the cruelty of the colonial era. Until a few years ago instead of Leopold, Kabila ran the country like his fiefdom during the 20 years he was president. Gertler was his chief lieutenant and banker.
Those who benefited least (or not at all) were the Congolese people. Millions of them worked in the mines under torturous working conditions, while their homes had no running water or electricity. They often ate only a single meal a day. Yet they produced minerals worth billions for owners like Gertler. The US Treasury estimates that between 2010-2012 Congo lost $1-billion in profits, when it privatized national mining companies, selling them cheaply to middlemen like Gertler who, in turn sold them to international mining conglomerates. Profits from those sales were siphoned into the pockets of Gertler and his Congolese clique.
But finally, his greed and recklessness caught up to him. After power changed hands in Congo, the new president, Felix Tshisekedi, brought international charges against Gertler for stealing $2-billion through fraudulent sales of the mining concessions and other forms of corruption. As a result, the US, Britain and Switzerland, where much of his wealth was stashed, imposed sanctions on him. This meant that he could not access any of his assets. Things got so bad for him that he couldn’t even pay the substantial legal fees he owed his Israeli attorney. But he was generous is forbearing in the expectation that relief of sanctions would eventually mean Gertler would pay the millions he owed to him.
Gertler grew up as a secular Jew, but turned to ultra-Orthodoxy as a youth. He eventually came under the influence of the “wonder rabbi,” David Abuhatzeira, who dispenses advice and guidance to hundreds of the most prominent Israelis in media, the arts and politics. He conveys his blessing on followers for their business deals and life decisions. In return, they shower him with money. Gertler is one of his wealthiest and most powerful disciples, who created access by donating millions to the rabbi. There are many of these mystical rabbinic figures in Israel and all of them take millions from thankful followers who believe their wealth, successes and their very lives have received a divine spiritual blessing. He also donates to Orthodox education charities, to which he’s donated over $40-million. He gave over $60-million to provide food stamps for poor Orthodox Jews. One of his Orthodox critics declares that he is viewed in that community as Moses Montefiore or Baron Rothschild (the earliest funders of the Yishuv). Of course, the recipients of his largesse don’t know that the millions he showers upon them derives from corrupt dealings in Africa and the rape of its natural resources. In effect, Gertler is charity-washing the billions in profits he’s earned.
Gertler had a two-pronged strategy to regain his Congo interests and access to his international access. His preferred option was to get Congo to dismiss the charges against him. After that, he would be able to seek removal of the sanctions against him.
Plan A: the Congo Connection
Plan A involved enlisting the support of some of the most powerful figures in Israel to lobby the Congolese on his behalf. Among them were Bibi Netanyahu and then-Mossad chief, Yossi Cohen. Netanyahu approved an astonishingly brazen plan to send Cohen to Congo to meet with Kabila and Tshisekedi. Cohen made three separate secret trips to the country. His main purpose was to meet with Kabila, though it’s not clear what was Cohen or Gertler’s ultimate intention (beyond resolving the outstanding Congolese warrant). He also met with Tshisekedi, who was Kabila successor and political rival. On none of those trips did the Mossad boss inform the president in advance of his intention to visit. Nor after he arrived did he request appointments. He merely showed up at Tshekedi’s office and requested an audience.
By Cohen’s third visit, Tshisekedi began to suspect that Cohen and Kabila were conspiring to overthrow him. At their last meeting, the president dismissed the Israeli entourage accompanying Cohen, and asked to speak with the Mossad chief alone. Though we have no direct knowledge of what was said in that private conversation, we can tell implicitly by the fact that Congolese intelligence personnel accompanied Cohen back to his plane and told him good riddance. He’d been expelled and labeled persona non grata.
It is an extraordinary story and shows both Cohen’s and Netanyahu’s utter recklessness. These actions violate every norm of relations between states. Senior officials of foreign countries simply don’t make secret trips, and not announce their presence to the host country. Nor do they meet brazenly with political rivals of the national leader.
Of course, none of this is surprising considering the naked greed which characterizes the careers of Cohen and Netanyahu. Cohen, whose Hebrew nickname is “The Model” reportedly bedded down much the Mossad HQ female staff in his early years. More recently, he conducted an affair with a married flight attendant. When the latter’s husband took it badly Cohen’s sister, who was the cuckolded husband’s boss, had him fired. They offered him no severance and essentially kicked him out the door, despite being one of the most successful investment advisors the company employed. He hired lawyers and received a handsome settlement.
The Packer-Cohen Connection
Cohen was also implicated in a bribery scheme involving one of the key players in the Netanyahu Case 1000. The Australian newspaper magnate, James Packer, sought to avoid paying taxes in his home country. Israel offers generous benefits to oligarchs willing to stash their millions there. So Packer bought a villa in one of Israel’s toniest enclaves, Caesarea, next door to his special pal, Netanyahu.
His problem was that he needed an Israeli visa and/or citizenship. Who better to enlist on your behalf than the country’s chief intelligence official. Cohen, sniffing major money and the status of hobnobbing with the world’s power brokers, would be a useful figure to grease the wheels. In return, Packer enticed the intelligence boss with a $10-million signing bonus if he would become chief of a security consulting firm he planned to found. Packer also made a $20,000 “gift” to a synagogue Cohen was building next door to his home. There he planned on celebrating the Bar Mitzvah of his son. Authorities investigated this nakedly obvious quid pro quo and did not find it merited bringing charges.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that when one of Israel’s wealthiest oligarchs came calling and also needed help, Cohen graciously offered his services. But what did Cohen get in return? That is unclear. But clearly, if Gertler got his mining operation running again it would be a cash cow. I’m certain Cohen could envision himself either as a corporate officer handsomely paid for his services; or as a direct investor earning a hefty share of the profits.
The Censor’s Heavy Hand
Israeli media are reporting major new developments in the scandal, though they cannot be specific because the military censor has slapped the lid on reporting it. The closest Haaretz’s report comes to spilling the beans is this:
Gertler and Kabila possess sensitive information, whose exposure would gravely damage the State.
Keep in mind that the censor isn’t protecting the security of the State. The military censor is covering the asses of the general and spymasters, and prime ministers when they go astray, as they often do. The messes they make embarrass not only them personally or professionally, but an entire government apparatus. As such, they must be protected at all costs. Nor is there much pushback. There is hardly a concept in Israel of the public’s right to know, or holding officials accountable for their misdeeds.
ביום רביעי בערב יגיע אל סופו מסע שנמשך כבר חצי שנה וכלל צילומים בארבע יבשות, שלוש שפות, שני חדרי עריכה שעבדו במקביל ואחד דן גרטלר – שלא מוכן שיעשו עליו תחקירים. על מסע הלחצים חסר הגבולות שאנחנו נתונים לו בימים האחרונים עוד אספר בהמשך, בינתיים תנו לי לתת לכם ספוילר קצר>>> pic.twitter.com/rPT55YtAdD
— Avi Amit (@AviAmit26) May 7, 2022
An Israeli TV magazine is airing a two-part investigation (Hebrew) of Gertler, Cohen and their Congo escapade. It is in two parts. The first episode aired this week. The second focuses specifically on Cohen’s ties to Gertler.
Amit, the leader of the team producing the documentary was, like Cohen, also thrown out of Congo. The authorities grew increasingly nervous about the camera crews film throughout the country. Eventually, he was told he must leave.
As the documentary neared completion, Gertler’s attorney sent letters to the TV channel threatening a lawsuit. In his response to the airing of the documentary on Israeli TV, he even accused the media outlet of mounting a “blood libel” against him. The term is used to describe anti-Semitic conspiracies leading to violence against Jews. In employing the term, he seeks to portray himself as a victimized Jew targeted by powerful media interests out to destroy him because he is a Jew.
In a related development, Amit filed a police complaint alleging that Gertler hired private investigators to spy on him and tap his phone. After arranging to interview a figure close to Gertler, the interview purported to arrive at Amit’s home. But instead of him, someone claiming to be his driver entered. He proceeded to take pictures secretly. They were incorporated into what Gertler hoped would be an embarrassing dossier, which would persuade the network to cancel the program. Instead, it fired up the media company to resist such acts of extortion.
Another possibility regarding the Congolese operation is that the two were conspiring to organize a coup against the sitting president. To do so, Kabila would need lots of weapons, training and security consultants, all of which Cohen could facilitate. There would be money to made both from selling weapons to Kabila, and even more from the corrupt dealings that could follow should Kabila succeed.
When Amit called Yossi Cohen to interview him about Gertler, the former Mossad boss let out a nervous laugh, then replied:
I cannot deal with this. I will have to consult my attorney about what I can and can’t say on this subject. Super sensitive.
One thing is for certain, Cohen did not take up Gertler’s case out of altruism. He always, even in his official role as Mossad boss, looked out for his own personal and political interests. In fact, he very clearly has an ambition to become prime minister. Netanyahu even promised that he would appoint Cohen to his cabinet, which would be a steppingstone to power once the current PM retired.
Plan B: the White House Connection
Alas, Gertler’s Plan A failed when Cohen was kicked out of Congo. Then Plan B came into play. The Trump administration had come into office and was known as a cesspool of influence and access. All manner of swindlers and wheeler-dealers sought access to Trump and Kushner to peddle their schemes. One of them was Gertler, through his US lawyer, none other than Alan Dershowitz. The latter was a perfect choice because he had represented Trump during his impeachment trial. Who better to get access for his client in the White House than the preferred defense attorney for America’s murdering husbands?
Dershowitz sang the praises of his client. To hear him tell it, Gertler was a choir boy who donated millions to charity. He was such an important figure in Israel that punishing him actually harmed the interests of the State itself. It was meant to charm Trump, who himself is the same type of rapacious swindler.
Even more important were Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer and, again, Yossi Cohen, who bounces up like a jack-in-the-box over and over again in this story. The two of them pitched Trump on Gertler’s importance to Israel, and his ability to gather intelligence in Africa that exposes terror plots. Though how a diamond merchant would know anything about Boko Haram or Somalia militants, is anybody’s guess. Israeli security officials interviewed for the TV program denied that Congo was of any strategic benefit to Israel, rebutting these claims.
Among these three figures, their magic worked and both Trump and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin agreed, five days before the end of his term, to remove sanctions. This permitted him to access his funds in the US (and presumably pay his attorneys in Israel and this country). Sanctions were never lifted in the UK or Switzerland. And a few months after taking power, Biden’s new Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen reimposed sanctions.
Though Plan A offered little in the way of certainty it could succeed. Plan B was even less satisfactory, because it only offered Gertler partial relief in one of the three countries where he faced sanctions; and those US sanctions were later reimposed.
But the result for Israel is that its prime minister and intelligence chief treated the State apparatus as their personal stepping stone to stolen wealth and power. They connived and schemed on behalf of corrupt Israeli oligarchs. An interview on the TV documentary says that Israel conducted itself like a “Mafia state.” In doing so, they betrayed their oaths of office and their duty to the citizenry. In one sense this is shocking to Israeli officials (Mossad, defense and foreign ministry personnel) who are used to some modicum of proper behavior in their pursuit of official duties. But it can’t be shocking at all to those observing the rampant corruption riddling every nook and cranny of Israeli society. Israel is the home away from home for numerous Russian oligarchs like Roman Abramovich, Leonid Nevzlin and a score more. It’s a convenient place to stash the billions they stole from the Russian economy. In Israel, eighteen oligarch families own 60% of the country’s capital. And the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe ranks Israel as having the fifth-greatest wealth gap between rich and poor.
It is, unfortunately, no surprise that the rich and powerful, whether in business or politics, see the State and its assets as their personal piggy bank.