Congo agreed to lobby for U.S. sanctions on Gertler to be lifted, deal shows

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By Sonia Rolley

(Reuters) -Democratic Republic of Congo agreed to lobby to get U.S. sanctions on Israeli businessman Dan Gertler lifted and pay his company $250 million in a February deal with Gertler's company that the country published on Thursday.

Congo's presidency in February announced an out-of-court agreement with Gertler's Ventora Development to end a dispute over mining and oil contracts. Under the deal, Ventora agreed to give several assets back to the state.

The U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on Gertler and more than 30 of his businesses in December 2017 and June 2018, accusing him of leveraging his friendship with former Congo President Joseph Kabila to secure lucrative mining deals.

Gertler has denied any wrongdoing. A spokesperson for Gertler said he entered into the settlement "with a heavy heart and at significant financial cost", giving Congo assets "worth more than $2 billion".

The deal, copies of which were handed out to reporters at a press conference in Kinshasa, shows Ventora agreed to transfer to the state oil permits for Blocs 1 and 2 of Lake Albert, in the country's northeast, and mining permits for three projects: Moku Gold, Iron Mountain, and Sanzetta.

Congo, for its part, agreed to help Gertler "to accompany his efforts in a process aiming to remove the U.S. sanctions, including through making contact with relevant political and administrative actors in the U.S."

Congo agreed to pay Ventora 240.7 million euros ($251.6 million) to settle "debts owed to Ventora", the deal shows, while Ventora agreed to pay 57 million euros to Congo's state mining company Gecamines to settle royalties owed to it.

Under the agreement, both Congo and Ventora waived the right to any further claims against the other party. But the parties agreed to collaborate on "joint, consistent public relations activities" relating to the deal, with media and non-governmental organisations.

The Feb. 24 agreement was signed by Congo Justice Minister Rose Mutombo Kiese and Ventora Development manager Henri Tungavo Ntoko.

Congo Finance Minister Nicolas Kazadi said the deal was made possible because Ventora was stuck between the dispute with Congo on one hand, and U.S. sanctions on the other.

"Because they helped deliver this result, we see the U.S. sanctions as beneficial and salutary, helping advance our country's cause, but at the same time, if the sanctions continue it will threaten our ability to exploit these assets," he told reporters at the press conference.

Kazadi said the deal was "urgent", partly because the assets include oilfields in Lake Albert, and the scope to exploit oil resources is "relatively limited" due to the global push to decarbonise.

($1 = 0.9568 euros)

(Reporting by Paul Lorgerie and Sonia Rolley; Editing by Helen Reid, Uttaresh.V and Mark Potter)



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