DR CONGO: AUTHORITIES SHOULD QUASH WHISTLEBLOWERSâ DEATH SENTENCES
|Gradi Koko Lobanga and Navy Malela
March 10, 2021:
Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo should quash the death sentences imposed in absentia on two whistleblowers who provided information on corruption, Human Rights Watch declared on 9 March 2021. (Source: HRW, 09/03/2021)
Congolese authorities should instead investigate the allegations of criminal activity reported by Gradi Koko and Navy Malela, two former bank employees who exposed alleged illegal financial practices and money laundering.
Koko and Malela both worked in the audit department of Afriland First Bank CD, the Congolese subsidiary of Afriland First Bank, whose headquarters are in Cameroon. Koko said that in 2018 his superiors at the bank directly threatened him after he reported serious financial irregularities internally. In the face of these threats, he and Malela shared a trove of data and documents with the Platform for the Protection of African Whistleblowers (PPLAAF), a nongovernmental organization based in France. The information they provided led to a series of investigative reports in July 2020 by PPLAAF, Global Witness, and media outlets, including Bloomberg, Le Monde and Haaretz.
“Congolese authorities have made a mockery of the rule of law by prosecuting two whistleblowers for revealing information of major public interest that’s critically important to Congolese institutions,” said Thomes Fessy, senior Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Their convictions should be quashed, and their revelations should be the basis for independent and impartial investigations.”
The published reports allege that Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler, a longtime friend of former Congo President Joseph Kabila, established a money laundering network with Afriland First Bank CD at its center. The scheme purportedly helped Gertler evade United States government sanctions against him and to acquire new mining assets in Congo.
Koko fled Congo in 2018 and sought asylum in Europe; Malela followed in early 2020. On 26 February 2021, they revealed that they were the source of the reports.
“I am not an armed rebel chief and my denunciations are useful to Congo, so why should I be sentenced to death?” Koko told Human Rights Watch by phone. “I fear reprisals, and I fear for my family in Kinshasa.”
On 25 February, representatives for Afriland and Gertler told journalists at a news conference in Kinshasa that the Tribunal de Grande Instance in Kinshasa had sentenced the whistleblowers to death in absentia on 7 September for “forgery,” “theft,” “private corruption,” “breach of professional secrecy,” and “criminal conspiracy.” Neither Malela nor Koko – or their lawyer – had knowledge of the court hearing. The trial violated the men’s right to a fair trial under international law, Human Rights Watch said.