On a warm afternoon in July 2022, Vidiye Tshimanga, one of the most senior politicians in the Democratic Republic of Congo, left his luxury hotel in the district of St. James in London in a taxi, for Hide, a restaurant with a Michelin star. frequented by the capital’s elite. He has a possible income date.
His flight, hotel, meals and taxi fare were taken care of by a man and woman who claimed to work for a Hong Kong-based conglomerate with interests in Congolese minerals. During a half-hour video conference last month, Tshimanga was asked about his relationship with President Felix Tshisekedi. Satisfied with his answers, these mysterious investors offered him this meeting in London.
Filmed without her knowledge
But these are no ordinary investors. During three meetings, one online and two in person, the duo taped Vidiye Tshimanga without his knowledge as he bragged about his closeness to the president and offered to set up a company with them that he would own. in a stake disguised as nominees and opaque offshore. arrangements.
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“If we do business together, I will take my… In return, continued the Congolese president’s strategic adviser, he promises to use his influence to obtain mining licenses, avoid paperwork for investors and “protect” their investment against prying officials. Later, he would suggest that he run for president.
“If I ask [au président] something, he gives”, said Vidiye Tshimanga, in English. “I am the president… The president does not do business [directement]”.
Permits obtained in record time
From their first online exchange, the Congolese advisor offered investors the opportunity to partner with his Congolese company, COBAMIN. Matte black shirt with the same collar, shiny shaven head, slightly grizzled goatee and rimless square glasses, the adviser quickly relaxed. He described a deal he allegedly made through COBAMIN with Toronto-listed Ivanhoe Mines.
“In Ivanhoe, they have 80%, I have 20, said Vidiye Tshimanga. My 20% is divided in half, so you have 10%, that is COBAMIN – my company. The other 10%, because in the mining law, you have an obligation to have a Congolese person [dans la société]… [Cette] The Congolese man was our choice.
Admission or bragging? We have not found in Congolese records any companies jointly owned by COBAMIN and Ivanhoe or its subsidiaries. On the other hand, we have confirmed that COBAMIN obtained its last mining permit – located next to Ivanhoe – in February 2019, just one month after Félix Tshisekedi replaced Joseph Kabila as president of the Congo. The company obtained three permits in eight days, a “record time” for Elisabeth Caesens, director of the NGO Resources Matters. He added that companies often use “all kinds of financial structures” to pay political figures.
“Official, I can’t be involved”
When contacted, Ivanhoe simply replied that its activities in Congo “are governed by strict policies against corporate corruption”. While adding that the company “regularly applies for official exploration permits in areas identified by its geological team as likely to contain minerals”.
During their first meeting in London, Vidiye Tshimanga again insisted on his closeness to President Tshisekedi, even admitting that his campaign to become president was financed.
“I met him in 2014, and we got really close,” he said. He comes to my house, we have dinner together at home. His wife is my wife’s best friend.”
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During this meeting, the Congolese adviser explained that his public position prevents him from concluding contracts in a private capacity. But instead of ending the talks, he offered the mystery investors a solution.
“We have different ways of doing things”
“The company is not in my name, because I am a PEP [politically exposed person], he said. “We have trusts that are in Mauritius, we have different ways of doing it, but mostly we put the names of the people we control in the country. But we are in charge. […] I’m still behind.”
Later, Tshimanga boasted of having other partners. One of them, he said, even promised him a helicopter to take him from London to Paris to discuss a concession and promised to inject “200 million”.
In partnership with OCCRP, time decided to publish excerpts from these videos, because they provide a unique insight into how transactions are organized in the Congo. Victim of the ‘resource curse’, most of the income is drained abroad into the hands of a small elite, often aided by foreign companies attracted by the large profit potential. In May, Swiss commodities and mining giant Glencore agreed to pay US authorities $1.15 billion to settle corruption charges linked to its investments in Congo and elsewhere.
An impressive bodyguard
Curious to know how the presidential adviser can justify these shameful statements, we contacted him. A few phone exchanges later, he gave us an appointment at a hotel in Paris. In his room, a large, tattooed, Russian-speaking bodyguard conducted a thorough search of our belongings, leaving us with only a notebook and pencil for an hour and a half interview, below in surveillance. The tense exchanges, which we later learned were recorded by the adviser while his bodyguard took our picture without our consent.
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During our discussions, Vidiye Tshimanga never questioned the authenticity of the videos. On the other hand, he multiplies conflicting explanations. At first, he admitted that these were private meetings. Then it was claimed that the recording was unreliable because of his poor English. And in the end he realizes that this is a trap set for himself and that he wants to see “how far men and women go”.
To support his point, he played us an excerpt from his own recording at the end of one of his meetings with “investors”, where he told them that he could not do business with them because he was part of government. Asked about the possibility of saying this to protect himself after suspecting that he was being set up, he denied, promising to “record everything”. But refused to share the entire tape.
Who are these mysterious investors? Whistleblowers or frustrated economic players, trying to get revenge? time do not know the authors of the videos, which are sent through an intermediary. The interlocutors of the Congolese adviser are careful: they cannot be seen on the screen and their voices are distorted.
An anonymous mediator contacted us via videoconference. Then the exchanges continued through the encrypted messaging application Telegram. Our interlocutor first told us that he and his “boss” – whose voice changed in the video – wanted to see Congo “cleaned up” and did so because Vidiye Tshimanga “cheated” in the sale of mining licenses. Then our messages were ignored, especially when we asked them to identify themselves and explain their motives well.
When meeting with the Congolese adviser, the man and woman claimed to represent the Hong Kong-based conglomerate CK Hutchison, its chief executive, Li Ka-shing, and especially his son Victor Li. When contacted, CK Hutchison said “has no business or interest in the Congo and has not sent any representative to [sa] company”.
Despite the “research into Congolese services” he says he has done, Vidiye Tshimanga has so far been unable to identify his colleagues. He told us that he suspected one of the many industrial espionage companies active in the Congo, attracted by the richest land in the world. Or people who want to harm him: Chinese or Israeli investors, or even a local oligarch. “I have a lot of enemies,” he said.
But whether it was a palace war or a destabilization operation, Operation Tshimanga sheds a harsh light on corruption in the mining sector in one of the world’s poorest countries. It was a bitter observation that the adviser himself had made at the previous meeting in London. Talking about the “way of working” that varies according to the country, he concluded with Congolese details: “You need strong people to protect your investment and to be with you. And I don’t know if there are people who more powerful than the president.”