Congo, one of the poorest nations on Earth, offered former President Bill Clinton a speaking fee of $650,000–a sum equal to annual per-capita income of 2,813 Congolese. Indeed, the International Monetary Fund ranks the Democratic Republic of the Congo dead last in its global income rankings. What did it expect in return for its investment?
In the proposed 2012 contract, the organizers expected a speech and at least one photograph each with the leaders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Congo, which appeared to be splitting the princely honorarium. (Since there are two nations known as Congo, in this article, unless otherwise specified, I am referring to the Democratic Republic of the Congo whenever I write “Congo” alone.) That doesn’t seem like much of a return, two snaps and a chat. So the question is: What else did Congo want for its money?
Congo’s extraordinary offer to Clinton first surfaced in a batch of Hillary Clinton’s emails released this past August, where it won little attention at the time. Newly leaked documents, known as the “Panama papers,” shed new light on the mystery as well as the misdoings of Congo’s corrupt rulers.
While Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, America’s top official dealing with foreign leaders, former President Bill Clinton travelled the world giving speeches to world leaders and overseas interests–earning at least $48 million while his wife was America’s top diplomat. Why weren’t the payments to one Clinton not considered a bribe to the other Clinton?
Precisely to prevent this perception, the State department had to vet all of the international speeches of the former president. Thus, the foreign policy director at the Clinton Foundation, Amitabh Desai, emailed Clinton’s request to accept the $650,000 to a State department official, writing “WJC [William Jefferson Clinton] wants know what state thinks of it if he took it 100% for the foundation.”
This a favorite camouflage of the Clintons. The money was destined for the non-profit Clinton Foundation, which is controlled by the Clintons and their daughter, where it would be used for healthcare, schooling and other good works.
Using money to help your fellow man isn’t self-enrichment, they say. True, but beside the point. Giving money to charity doesn’t address whether that money was received as a bribe. To answer that key question, one would have to know what foreign leaders wanted in exchange for their donations. After all, Congolese leaders aren’t worried about charitable deductions on their U.S. tax forms. So why did they proffer so much of their poor country’s money?
What could Congo President Joseph Kabila want? While the possibilities are endless, two seem most likely: he sought U.S. permission to ignore Congo’s constitution and stay in power beyond his two-term limit, which expires in 2016, and he wanted to shield his overseas assets from international investigators.
Bill and Hillary, especially when she was secretary of state, could be helpful on each count, if they wanted to be. Staying in power and keeping billions in shadowy gains would certainly be worth $650,000, if that was the deal that Kabila had in mind.
It is time for the Clintons and their foundation to disclose all of their communications with Kabila and his regime. How was the $650,000 sum arrived at? What did Congo want in return? Did the Clintons offer to provide any help with U.S., UN, EU or other international officials?
And, what about Kabila’s offshore accounts?
New evidence from the “Panama papers,” a massive trove of some 200,000 offshore companies incorporated by the law firm Mossack Fonseca, were leaked to the German daily Suddeutsche Zeitung and then to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. A dozen current or former national leaders, and more than 100 other elected officials from North American and European countries, have had their names found in this massive pile of purloined papers.
The twin sister of Congo President Joseph Kabila also appears in the “Panama papers” owning a shell company whose value may exceed $100 million. Kabila’s sister, Jaynet Kyungu, opened the company soon after her brother came to power. The initial directors were listed as Kalume Nyembwe Feruzi and “Ursula Kyungu,” which is a name Jaynet Kyungu sometimes uses in corporate records. Feruzi’s family reportedly have been close to the Kabila family since Laurent Desire Kabila, Joseph Kabila’s and Jaynet Kyungu’s father, was president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The shell company, Keratsu Holding Limited, was incorporated in the tiny South Pacific island country of Niue on June 19, 2001, five months after Joseph Kabila became president.
Keratsu Holding Limited soon fell behind on required corporate registration payments to the government of Niue–and had to make a series of revealing admissions. It submitted an “Application for Restoration” in 2010 which included an affidavit from Kabila’s co-owner, Kalume Nyembwe Feruzi: “I now need Keratsu Holding Limited restored and reinstated before the company’s assets can be realize[d].” An adviser to Feruzi explained to the law firm Mossack Fonseca: “[Feruzi] needs to receive dividends…” Undoubtedly, so did Kabila.
Where did these dividends come from? Partly from its 9.6% stake in Congo’s largest cell phone firm, Vodacom Congo Sprl, which in turn was estimated to be worth $1.5 billion in 2010. The shell company may well hold other corporate assets.
Kabila’s sister also owns a stake in Congo Digital, a subsidiary of the television and radio broadcasting company Multimedia Congo s.p.r.l.