By PATRICK ILUNGA

Kinshasa. A US-based watchdog has released a report accusing the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) of being a money laundering haven for North Koreans.

The Sentry, an investigative organisation backed by American actor George Clooney, says the Democratic Republic of Congo was used by North Korea to escape punitive sanctions imposed by the US and the United Nations. 

The report says the regime of former DRC President Joseph Kabila had officials who entertained North Korean merchants who “exploited the vulnerabilities and weaknesses of the Congolese banking sector to gain access to the global financial system.”

With North Korea also sanctioned by the European Union, the Asian country reportedly identified weaknesses in Congolese banks, aided by local officials, to circumvent international sanctions designed to disrupt North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme. 

North Koreans reportedly benefited from prevailing corruption and the failure of due diligence in the DRC that fostered this “violation of American and European sanctions”. 

The report reveals that two North Korean nationals — Pak Hwa Song and Hwang Kil Su — used their company Aconde Congo to create a dollar account in a Congolese lender, Afriland First Bank, thereby gaining access to the international financial system.

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The bank, however, says it rejects all accusations leveled by the Sentry report. A spokesperson told the Nation that there is no truth to the story.

The report also points an accusing finger at a senior politician in the Kabila administration, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, who was also a presidential candidate in the 2018 elections.

It says he had visited one of the North Korean projects ostensibly to get a kickback and allow them to break the sanction rules through local banks. 

This practice, Sentry said, enabled North Korea to engage in money laundering. 

It accuses authorities from Kabila’s regime of turning a blind eye to these practices. 

“Do not think for a second that corruption and money laundering in a country like the Democratic Republic of Congo does not affect international security,” Mr Clooney said on Wednesday.

“When banks don’t follow the ground rules and when governments turn a blind eye, organised crime and terrorist financing will always thrive.”

Neither Mr Shadary nor his office had responded to the Nation‘s queries by press time.

North Koreans used Congolese bank to launder money – report

Former Congolese Interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary is pictured at the Electoral Commission in Kinshasa on August 8, 2018.

Isolated country

North Korea is the world’s most isolated country, sanctioned for its continual human rights violations as well as its nuclear programme.

Due to this, it cannot access hard currency from the global market with ease. It also cannot openly trade with the world as it is excluded from the financial system, with exemption to humanitarian needs.

Previous reports have fingered North Korean diplomats in Africa for using diplomatic privileges to smuggle goods.

John Prendergast, another co-founder of The Sentry, said he believed that “despite the historic elections that ended Joseph Kabila’s Kleptocratic presidency, deep-rooted corruption, particularly linked to Kabila’s influential networks, continues to create misery and generate threats to regional and global security.”

President ’s administration has promised to “debunk the old system” and last month vowed to target cartels he said had aided theft of public resources.

“Without systemic changes in the DRC’s banking sector, institutions and private companies could lose access to some essential banking services, thus compromising the economic stability of the country.”

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