In an unexpected and unannounced decision made during the last week of the Trump administration, the U.S. Department of the Treasury temporarily rescinded the sanctions it had put on Israeli diamond trader Dan Gertler three years earlier.
In December 2017, then-President Trump signed an executive order placing Gertler on the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned individuals list, because of his business ties with the former president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila.
In June 2018, OFAC added 14 more entities connected to Gertler to its list.
Gertler “amassed his fortune through hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of opaque and corrupt mining and oil deals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” the agency charged.
But on Jan. 15, OFAC granted Gertler and his related entities a one-year license to do business in the United States, according to a letter sent to Washington, D.C., law firm Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer, which was published by the New York Times.
According to the Sentry, an advocacy group that has frequently criticized Gertler, the license does not remove the diamond trader or his network from the OFAC list. However, it effectively undermines the sanctions by allowing him to conduct transactions here and permitting financial institutions to unfreeze his accounts.
The new license, which requires Gertler to report any U.S. transaction every 90 days, expires on Jan. 31, 2022, though the letter notes that it can be revoked at any time. The Sentry statement said it hoped the Biden administration will overturn the decision.
“Letting Dan Gertler off the hook sends a message to the world’s most corrupt businesspeople that the U.S. will let them walk free after a bit of lobbying,” said Sasha Lezhnev, deputy director of policy at the Sentry, in a statement.
In 2019, Gertler had hired some big names to lobby on his behalf, including Alan Dershowitz, the former Harvard Law School professor who has become a Trump defender, and former FBI director Louis Freeh.
The Sentry advised U.S. financial institutions not to lift their block on Gertler’s accounts.
“The risk of being connected to corrupt or illicit financial activity is simply too high for otherwise reputable institutions,” it said, noting the license was issued “under, at best, dubious circumstances.”
Gertler could not be reached for comment, and his law firm, Arnold & Porter, did not return a request for comment.
However, his spokesperson told Reuters that “Mr. Gertler is grateful to OFAC for issuing a license that will enable him to operate his businesses and philanthropic activities.… He welcomes the reporting requirements and, with the oversight of a distinguished compliance team, looks forward to demonstrating that all of his activities fully comply with the letter and the spirit of the OFAC license and the law.”
When asked about the decision at her White House press briefing, press secretary Jen Psaki said the question should be directed to the Treasury Department. The Treasury Department did not return a request for comment by the time of publication.
(Image courtesy of the Office of Foreign Assets Control)
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