Slap(p) back against corruption
- Fri, 21 April 2023
21 April 2023
This week, we joined 145 other civil society organizations to speak out against a dangerous lawsuit meant to silence civil society in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The subject of our letter, Israeli businessman Dan Gertler, has a long history of profiting off natural resources in the DRC. Last month, he filed a defamation suit against corruption-fighting coalition Congo is Not for Sale (CNPAV). In the lawsuit, Gertler is demanding over US$1 million in damages over an interview the coalition spokesperson, Jean-Claude Mputu, had with Congolese media website Actualite.cd claiming Gertler and his affiliate companies received approximately US$60 million in royalties since signing a settlement agreement with the Congolese authorities in February 2022.
A criminal lawsuit was recently filed against a member of Le Congo n’est pas Vendre/Congo is Not for Sale coalition, Jean-Claude Mputu.
Under the settlement, Gertler will have to sell back some of his oil and mining assets to the Congolese state but will be allowed to collect royalties on three mining projects for the next 15 years and will be exempt from judicial investigations.
In perhaps the most dangerous precedent of the deal, the Congolese government agreed to assist Gertler in his attempts to lift US anti-corruption sanctions against him. Such a lopsided deal could incentivise other companies to enter into similar agreements in the future.
This suit isn’t the first time we’ve seen such actions from Gertler; he has a long history of silencing those who oppose his business practices. He initiated lawsuits, which are still ongoing, against two members of CNPAV and several journalists who work for independent media outlets. In 2021, Gertler and his network launched criminal lawsuits against two whistleblowers employed at Afriland First Bank in Kinshasa who uncovered allegations of money laundering benefiting Gertler. Tragically, these whistleblowers were sentenced to death and the suspected money laundering has yet to be investigated due to the inadequate legal process and rule of law.
We are concerned that the suits against CNPAV members are Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation (SLAPPs), which are legal measures that target activists, journalists, civil society groups and everyday people who identify injustice and speak out against it. Unfortunately, cases like these happen far too often. Just last November, the "Groupement des Exportateurs de Litchis" filed a complaint against our chapter in Madagascar targeting the Executive Director and Chair of the Board. They faced the possibility of prosecution for slander, abusive denunciation and denigration as a result of their work fighting corruption in the lychee trade sector.
Several countries around the world have protections against these types of lawsuits, but many don’t go far enough, and some are now taking steps that undermine past safeguards. In the EU, the Presidency of the Council of the EU issued a compromise which weakens protections and decreases the scope of procedural safeguards, which Transparency International EU is speaking out against as part of the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE).
As in the EU, civil society around the world is standing up against such suits. In addition to our letter this week, other NGOs have been calling on governments to hold Gertler to account despite his legal manoeuvring.
Protestors in DRC join 146 civil society organisations to condemn the lawsuit brought by US-sanctioned Dan Gertler against Le Congo n’est pas Vendre/Congo is Not for Sale coalition, specifically targeting Jean-Claude Mputu
Last week, Gertler announced the suspension of all defamation lawsuits in a written response to NGOs. We remain skeptical because, as of now, none of the lawsuits have formally been withdrawn and we await confirmation on what concrete steps he will take to halt the legal proceedings – but it shows he’s listening.
In the meantime, it’s crucial for countries around the world to uphold protections against SLAPPs and avoid sanctions relief for those who are trying to get away with corruption. We and our allies will continue to keep watch and push back against anyone using SLAPPs to try to silence civil society.
CPI 2022 for Sub-Saharan Africa: Corruption compounding multiple crises (January 2023)
Sub-Saharan Africa remains the lowest-scoring region on the 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index. Similar to other countries in the region, the Democratic Republic of Congo is plagued by instability that fuels violence and the trafficking of natural resources.
The high costs journalists pay when reporting on corruption (May 2020)
Journalists, civil society organisations and other whistleblowers play a significant role in identifying and exposing corruption, but it can be extremely dangerous. Journalists in particular face a myriad of obstacles each day and many risk their lives to expose the truth. SLAPP suits are one of the key intimidation tactics used by powerful people to censor opposition and dodge accountability.
Source==> Transparency International Newsletter