The British government has frozen 580 million pounds ($803 million) in assets held by militia leaders, army officers and private organisations with ties to Democratic Republic of Congo.
The freezes were mandated by the European Union as part of a sanctions regime imposed by the United Nations. They represent a hefty sum in Democratic Republic of Congo, which has an annual gross domestic product of about $30 billion and a budget of $5 billion.
The figure was published on the UK parliament website this week by Economic Secretary John Glen in response to an MP’s question.
His answer gave the total sum of seized assets but no details of the assets themselves. It provided a window into the scale of illicit financial activity in Congo that international powers have targeted as they try to ratchet up pressure on President Joseph Kabila to step down from power.
Leaders of Congo’s dozens of militia groups, government officials and military officers have enriched themselves by trafficking minerals, imposing illegal taxes and stealing public funds, according to government and various experts.
The asset freezes apply to individuals and groups, including warlords convicted by the International Criminal Court, a Congolese general convicted of rape, a gold trading company in neighbouring Uganda and two now-defunct Congolese airline companies.
Glen said the data covered the period from the sanctions’ adoption in 2005 up until September 30, 2016. That was before the EU imposed sanctions in 2016 and in 2017 on 15 state officials and a militia leader.
Those sanctions were imposed over alleged human rights abuses and delays in replacing President Kabila, whose official mandate ran out in December 2016 but has failed to organise new elections.
Glen said the measures apply to holdings in the United Kingdom and British Overseas Territories. Figures for 2017 freezes are still being compiled, he said. The funds remain the property of the individuals.
The United Nations first imposed a sanctions regime and arms embargo in Congo in 2003 following a five-year regional war in the east of the country that killed millions, most from hunger and disease.