US probes DRC oil deal with Khulubuse Zuma tie

Craig McKune & James Wood

Picture: Khulubuse Zuma. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

An oil deal originally fronted by Khulubuse Zuma is being probed by US federal authorities, the latest leak to emerge from the explosive Panama Papers shows.

This forms part of a wider bribery investigation into Och-Ziff Capital Management, a US hedge fund manager, about its investments in Africa. The US justice department is pushing Och-Ziff to plead criminal guilt, according to the Wall Street JournalBut its lawyers have reportedly argued that it was not criminally liable and are seeking a lesser sanction. 

The  Panama Papers have provided the first clear indication that deals involving South Africans formed part of the US authorities’ probe into Och-Ziff’s suspected dodgy dealings. 

In 2010, Zuma was presented as the owner of companies to which Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila awarded oil rights. 

Later in 2010, Och-Ziff financed the development of the oil fields through a $110m loan. Initially, the intended owners of the the companies were Israeli Dan Gertler and South African businessman Mark Willcox.

Willcox said he never took up a shareholding. 

The oil field is 100%-controlled by Gertler, who has admitted he and Kabila are friends. 

The Panama Papers contain correspondence made in July and September last year, in which the British Virgin Islands attorney general ordered law firm Mossack Fonseca to produce all records in respect of Foxwhelp and Caprikat, the companies registered in the British Virgin Island that acquired the oil rights and are controlled by Gertler. 

Under threat of a fine or imprisonment, Mossack Fonseca complied, the documents show. 

The attorney general’s correspondence indicated that the source of the request was the US probe of Och-Ziff. 

At the time of the oil deal, another of Gertler’s companies was doing business in the Congo in partnership with Africa Management, a firm at which Willcox was CEO. 

Willcox said he had no knowledge of Och-Ziff financing the oil fields and had not been contacted by US authorities. 

The Panama Papers were first leaked to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists shared the documents with other journalists. 

In 2010, Zuma signed the contracts for Foxwhelp and Caprikat. He also travelled with Willcox to Kinshasa for talks about the oil field. At the time, Zuma said that his uncle, President Jacob Zuma, played no role. 

Willcox’s lawyer, Rael Gootkin, said his client’s role “was after the allocation of the rights … to utilise his expertise in capital raising and introducing oil majors as partners”. 

In 2014, Och-Ziff disclosed it was being probed by the US justice department and the Securities and Exchange Commission for possible breaches of America’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.


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James Wood 1
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