George Clooney-Backed Investigative Org Exposes North Korean Banking Scandal In DR Congo

George Clooney
George Clooney at a press conference about South Sudan in London in September. AP Photo/Alastair Grant

The Sentry, the George Clooney-supported investigative team that follows the dirty money connected to African war criminals and transnational war profiteers, has published a report it says exposes North Korea’s exploitation of vulnerabilities in the DR Congo banking system to escape sanctions and access the global financial system.

Clooney co-founded the org with John Prendergast and the actor donated $1M towards its work back in 2017.

“Don’t think for a second that corruption and money laundering in a place like the Democratic Republic of Congo doesn’t impact international security,” said Clooney. “When banks fail to fulfill basic compliance requirements – and when governments turn a blind eye – organized crime and terror financing will always flourish.”

Titled Overt Affairs, the report claims to expose “a cascade of due diligence failures, compounded by entrenched corruption involving allies of former DRC President Joseph Kabila”, and shine a light on how two North Korean nationals working through their company Congo Aconde obtained a US dollar-denominated account at the DRC affiliate of Afriland First Bank.

It warns that the illicit activity identified by the investigation and the country’s long history of government corruption poses an enormous risk for global banks operating in the DRC and could ultimately damage the country’s economic stability. It recommends The US Treasury Department should amend its existing advisory on the illicit finance threat emanating from North Korea to include risks of doing business with certain parts of the DRC’s banking sector, and that global banks should conduct enhanced due diligence with transactions from DRC.

The resource-rich nation DR Congo has a troubled history, achieving independence from brutal Belgian colonization in 1960 before Joseph Mobutu took power after a coup d’état and established himself as a dictator. After he fled in 1997, the nation became embroiled in a civil war that rages now.

“North Korea went hunting around the world, looking in every nook and cranny for an access point into the global financial system,” explained Prendergast. “The opening it found was in the DRC, amid a perfect storm of public and private sector vulnerabilities. Despite historic elections that brought the kleptocratic presidency of Joseph Kabila to an end, deeply entrenched corruption, particularly linked to Kabila’s influential networks, continues to create misery for the Congolese people and generate threats to regional and global security.”

“The activities we uncovered in this investigation suggest that the DRC serves as a haven for sanctions evaders,” said John Dell’Osso, Senior Investigator at The Sentry. “Without any effort to obscure their national origin, two North Korean nationals succeeded in setting up a company in the DRC, were contracted by government officials to undertake construction projects using public funds, and gained an entry point into the international financial system. As a clear violation of US, EU, and UN sanctions on North Korea, the inaction, lack of due diligence, and corruption that enabled this breach put Congo’s entire economy in jeopardy.”

“This activity should not serve as a catalyst for financial institutions to further de-risk from the DRC,” added Hilary Mossberg, Director of Illicit Finance Policy at The Sentry. “Instead, banks around the world should help foster a culture of compliance among partners in the country. Governments and the private sector should encourage the Tshisekedi administration to urgently focus on stronger measures to protect the banking system from abuse and help weed out threats to banks in the DRC as well as the international financial system.”

The report is available to read in full here.

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