Congo overthrows mining leader in cloud of corruption claims

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The chairman of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s state-owned mining company was ousted Friday after protracted allegations that billions of dollars in revenue had disappeared, a move officials say was intended to fight corruption as the country becomes increasingly important in the global revolution in the area of ​​mining. clean energy.

Albert Yuma Mulimbi, the company’s chairman since 2010, was replaced by Congo’s President Felix Tshisekedi, just days after The New York Times published an article revealing new allegations against Mr Yuma.

The government agency, known as Gécamines, controls the production of metals such as cobalt and copper, crucial metals in the battle to expand electric vehicles and other renewable energy sources. Without his presidency, Mr. Yuma will no longer play an important role in collaborating with international companies on major mining agreements.

“It’s hard to underestimate the importance of this development – it’s an important step in the fight against corruption in Congo,” said J. Peter Pham, who served as a senior official in Central Africa at the US State Department until January. business was. “Albert Yuma and the mining industry are at the intersection of natural resources, political and economic power in the country.”

At least for now, Mr Yuma will retain his role in overseeing the reform of small-scale and informal mining in Congo, a director of the sector said. His plans include buying cobalt from the informal miners, also known as artisanal miners, and regulating its pricing. Cobalt produced by artisanal mining, as opposed to industrial operations, makes up about 30 percent of the country’s production.

He has also announced plans to increase security at these locations. Child labor and frequent injuries and deaths associated with such mining have attracted international attention, driving new US investors away and even making some automakers reluctant to buy cobalt from Congo.

The country is responsible for more than two-thirds of the world’s cobalt and is also a major copper producer. While prices have risen in recent years, during Mr Yuma’s tenure, Gécamines was criticized for entering into agreements with foreign mining companies, including entities backed by the Chinese government. The arrangements ensured that the country’s extraordinary mineral wealth was transferred to foreigners to take advantage of.

Top State Department officials had urged the Biden administration to impose sanctions on Mr Yuma, who told The Times that by his own count he had been charged with as much as $8.8 billion over the years. in mining revenues.

In 2018, he was separately barred from entering the United States, and since then he has hired a team of lobbyists and lawyers in Washington to try to fight back and avoid any sanctions, which could freeze money he has in international banks.

Yuma, a longtime power broker in Congo and one of the country’s wealthiest businessmen, did not respond to a request for comment on Friday. But in a series of interviews with The Times in recent months, he called the charges against him fabrications by outside provocateurs seeking to undermine Congo’s sovereignty.

In a document he provided in October, he called the allegations “genuine smear campaigns,” saying his critics “wanted to tarnish his reputation and obscure his important role in favor of the country by reforming its mining policies.”

Gécamines has been one of Congo’s biggest sources of income for decades, controlling concessions awarded to major international mining companies and collecting royalties from them. Last year, the company generated $324 million.

Mr. Yuma was placed in his position as chairman by the country’s former president, Joseph Kabila, who, according to US officials, worked closely with Mr. Yuma to use funds from the agencies for political purposes and possibly also to protect Mr. to enrich Kabila.

He was reappointed as chairman in 2019, after Mr. Tshisekedi took office. That year, Mr Yuma had been considered as prime minister of the Congo, a move the United States opposed because he planned to act as Mr Kabila’s agent, State Department officials told The Times.

Mr Yuma will now be replaced by Kaputo Kalubi Alphonse, who had appointed Mr Tshisekedi to Gécamines’ board of directors three years ago. As a sign of Gécamines’ key role in Congo, Mr Tshisekedi’s spokesman announced the new appointment on national television on Friday.

Leon Mwine, who was appointed by Mr. Tshisekedi was appointed to a top position at Gécamines, said executives realized they had to prove to the world that the agency could change course.

“Values ​​– such as honesty and transparency and integrity – these core values ​​are what we need to be competitive in the international market,” said Mr. Mwine.

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