Israeli Billionaire Loses Trump-Granted Sanction Reprieve

The U.S. will end a temporary sanctions reprieve for Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler, according to the State Department, reversing a decision granted in the Trump administration’s final days.

The U.S. sanctioned Gertler and his companies in 2017 for allegedly corrupt mining and oil deals in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Treasury Department under President Donald Trump quietly issued a special license in January that exempted Gertler’s business activities from the sanctions until Jan. 31, 2022.

Under pressure from Democratic lawmakers, the Treasury Department now led by Secretary Janet Yellen has moved to revoke the special license, making it official on Monday.

Lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who’s representing Gertler, assailed the decision in a telephone interview, saying it “was made with no opportunity for Mr. Gertler to present evidence that he has been totally in compliance with all the OFAC requirements and that he has done everything absolutely properly under the license.” He was referring to the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces and administers trade sanctions.

“We are now considering our options,” Dershowitz added.

Ned Price, a State Department spokesman, said in a statement that “the license previously granted to Mr. Gertler is inconsistent with America’s strong foreign policy interests in combating corruption around the world, specifically including U.S. efforts to counter corruption and promote stability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

A Treasury spokesman declined to comment.

At the time of Gertler’s sanctioning, the Treasury Department accused him of acting as a middleman between multinational corporations and the state and of setting up companies on behalf of former Congolese President Joseph Kabila, all of which Gertler denies.

Gertler began trading Congo’s diamonds in the late 1990s when the nation was in the middle of a civil war that involved most of central Africa. His companies now hold royalties and stakes in a number of mining and oil ventures, including massive copper and cobalt projects run by Glencore Plc and Eurasian Resources Group. Congo is the world’s largest producer of cobalt, an essential mineral in the batteries that power electric vehicles.

Brad Brooks-Rubin, general counsel of The Sentry, an organization in Washington that focuses on corruption in Africa, called the revocation of Gertler’s license “a critical step for the Biden administration to turn the page on the damaging process that led to its issuance in the first place.”

“Sanctions and broader financial pressures need to be implemented and enforced in a consistent manner that inspires the confidence of financial institutions and our allies,” said Brooks-Rubin, who was a special adviser on conflict diamonds at the State Department during the Obama administration.

The move by Trump triggered an uproar among U.S. lawmakers and government officials who said they were left out of the decision-making process. Democratic Representatives Karen Bass and Gregory Meeks of the House Foreign Affairs Committee called on Treasury Secretary to undo the Trump administration move, as did Senators Cory Booker, Dick Durbin and Ben Cardin.

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