Democratic Republic of Congo has awarded lucrative forestry concessions to a company controlled by a Lebanese businessman who also runs a firm subject to sanctions by the United States as a front for Hezbollah. The 2011 concessions issued by Congo’s environment ministry to the Trans-M company, seen by Reuters, could complicate Washington’s efforts to curb what it says are the Lebanese militant movement’s growing business activities in Africa. The concessions cover 25-year leases for hundreds of thousands of hectares of rainforest in the central African country, the world’s second forest “lung” after the Amazon. The concessions are capable of generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues over 25 years, if fully exploited, forestry experts say. Trans-M is controlled by businessman Ahmed Tajideen (whose name is also given as Tajeddine in U.S. Treasury documents). He also runs another company, Congo Futur, which the U.S. government says is a front for Hezbollah. Congo Futur cites sawmilling as one of its businesses. The U.S. Treasury Department put Congo Futur under targeted sanctions in 2010, saying the firm was part of a network of businesses ultimately controlled by Tajideen’s three brothers, Kassim, Husayn and Ali, and that this generated “millions of dollars in funding” for Hezbollah. The sanctions aim to block U.S. dollar transfers linked to the trio, part of wider U.S. efforts to counter what Washington sees as increasing business activity in Africa by Hezbollah, which it calls “among the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world”. Hezbollah has denied U.S. accusations that it is linked to money-laundering and the international narcotics trade.
Ahmed Tajideen, who is not subject to U.S. Treasury sanctions, says his brothers have no share of Congo Futur or Trans-M and that the companies are neither directly related to each other nor act as front companies for Hezbollah.”I am the majority shareholder of both companies,” Tajideen told Reuters earlier this month.”I created both companies independently of each other”, he said. “My brothers have nothing to do with the companies”.
But leaked U.S. diplomatic cables produced in 2000 quote Ahmed Tajideen as saying Congo Futur established Trans-M, which is also described as a “subsidiary” of Congo Futur on the website of Congo’s official investment authority, ANAPI. “The question for the Congolese government is whether they really want to continue doing business with a company that is linked to a terrorist organisation?” said a U.S. official who monitors Congo, but asked not to be named. The U.S. Treasury made Kassim Tajideen subject to sanctions in 2009 and in 2010 also sanctioned Husayn Tajideen and Ali Tajideen, who it says was once a Hezbollah commander in Lebanon. The Treasury says Husayn and Ali are amongst Hezbollah’s “top financiers in Africa”…
Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, told the Security Council last month that he was particularly concerned that West Africa had become a “hub” for Hezbollah. But he did not refer to central Africa or Congo. Powerful Israeli businessmen still retain good relations with president Kabila, notably Dan Gertler, a wealthy diamond merchant who controls numerous mining and other interests in Congo, many managed via offshore companies.
Excerpts, by Dino Mahtani,Congo under scrutiny over Hezbollah business links, Reuters, Mar. 16, 2012