France: Reprisals against PPLAAF and Global Witnessintensify with new SLAPP procedures
Since the publication of their report"Undermining sanctions" the two organisations have been targeted withfour legal complaints in France
(Paris, 23 November 2020) - SLAPP(Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) procedures brought againstPPLAAF and Global Witness by those mentioned in their investigations are thelatest attempt to retaliate against organisations working to expose the truth.A coalition of 48 whistleblowers and journalist protection organisations andtheir partners in anti-corruption and human rights is calling on theinternational community to act immediately to stem the tide of this kind oflegal harassment against public interest watchdogs.
The real purpose of such lawsuits is notto convict journalists or non-governmental organisations (NGOs) but rather toharass them, to create a hostile enough environment to encourageself-censorship, to try in vain to discredit the message of these publicinterest organisations, and importantly, to divert public attention away fromthe extreme gravity of the information published.
On July 2nd, 2020, Global Witness andPPLAAF published a joint report titled “Undermining sanctions” taking a critical look at billionaireDan Gertler's business empire. Le Monde, Bloomberg, and Haaretz also participated in this importantinternational investigation.
Dan Gertler is an Israeli mining magnateoperating in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who is close to JosephKabila, former President of the DRC from 2001 to 2019. In 2017, the U.S.Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued sanctions against Dan Gertler and his companies. OFAC claimsthat Gertler “has used his closefriendship with DRC President Joseph Kabila to act as a middleman for miningasset sales in the DRC, requiring some multinational companies to go throughGertler to do business with the Congolese state.” As a result, OFACestimates that between 2010 and 2012 alone, “the DRC reportedly lost over $1.36 billion in revenues from theunderpricing of mining assets that were sold to offshore companies linked toGertler.”
As a result of these sanctions,individuals or companies with a commercial connection to the United States areprohibited from conducting any transactions with Mr. Gertler. Any non-U.S.individual or company may also be subject to sanctions if they conductcommercial transactions with Dan Gertler or his entities.
The report indicated the potentialexistence of a system apparently set up and designed to conceal payments anddeposits of up to several million dollars. Such a system would have enabled Mr. Gertler to continue to profit fromhis business activities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) despite the sanctions against him. The investigation was partly based ondocuments provided by whistleblowers whose anonymity has been preserved.
Before the report was even published, thetwo organisations and a number of the journalists who participated in theinvestigations were subjected to what amounts to a serious and sustainedcampaign of retaliation which only escalated once the report was publishedonline.
PPLAAF President William Bourdon stated an attempt to blackmail him was made by DanGertler’s lawyers in an effort to pressure the organisation not to publish thereport. Haaretz reporter Gur Megiddo said he received verbal threats from Mr. Dan Gertler inan attempt to prevent him from publishing his article.
On 1 July 2020, just before the reportwas published, the main bank identified in the investigation, Afriland FirstBank RDC, filed a complaint againstPPLAAF and Global Witness at the Paris Prosecutor's office. The complaint makesserious accusations against the two organisations and follows a threat that such legal action would be taken in a lettersent on 11 June 2020 by Gertler’s legalteam, including lawyers working at the London firm of Carter Ruck, on behalf ofthe sanctioned businessman.
The legal complaint made by AfrilandFirst Bank RDC has been accompanied by an outrageous campaign on social media attempting to denigrate anddiscredit PPLAAF and Global Witness. Dozens of videos dumped on Twitter falselyaccuse the two organisations of all sorts of things, including being “criminal” organisations and being used by George Soros toallow him to take control, through his network, of Congolese mines. While noone has taken responsibility for this threatening campaign, some of the materialpublished on social networks are recordings that Mr. Gertler and hisrepresentatives had threatened to release if the report was published.
At the same time the complaint was filedin Paris on behalf of Dan Gertler, Avigdor Liebermann, the former IsraeliDefence Minister whose name was mentioned in the Haaretz article, announced that he had lodged a complaint with the Israeli Press Council againsttwo Haaretz journalists. While Mr.Liebermann has the right to do so, the timing suggests his action is part of awider effort to distract attention away from the substance of the article. On21 July 2020, Dan Gertler also sued Haaretzfor libel, demanding compensation of 8 million shekels (about 2 million euros).
In France, on 2 October 2020, Mr.Emmanuel Daoud and Mr. Eric Moutet, lawyers for Dan Gertler and Afriland BankRDC respectively, along with Mr. Patrick Klugman, the lawyer representing twoother individuals whose names came up during the investigation (Elie Berros andRuben Katsobashvili), announced that they had filed three defamation complaintsagainst PPLAAF and Global Witness before the senior investigating judge inParis.
“Theseattacks demonstrate that when non-governmental organisations undertakeimportant public interest investigations into allegations of serious abuses,the first reaction of the people involved is to retaliate. This is a concertedand orchestrated effort to discredit the substance of the report by attackingthose who did the work, if not to bankrupt and to silence them”, said AnnaMyers, Executive Director of the Whistleblowing International Network (WIN) andJean-Philippe Foegle, Coordination and Advocacy Officer at the Maison deslanceurs d’alerte.
These SLAPP suits must stop – the legalsystem must not be allowed to be misused to help those who commit seriousabuses to escape accountability.
- Bloom (France)
- Attac (France)
- Sherpa (France)
- Anticor (France)
- Nothing2Hide (France)
- CFDT Cadres (France)
- Maison des Lanceurs d'Alerte (France)
- Ligue sénégalaise des droits de l'homme (Sénégal)
- RADDHO (Sénégal)
- Blueprint for Free Speech (Australie, Allemagne)
- Whistleblowing International Network (Royaume-Uni)
- Africtivistes (Sénégal)
- The Signals Network (États-Unis)
- Shadow World Investigations (Royaume Uni, Afrique du Sud)
- Finance Uncovered (Royaume-Uni)
- Public Eye (Suisse)
- Transparency International France (France)
- Syndicat National des Journalistes (SNJ) (France)
- Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID) (Royaume-Uni)
- Resource Matters (Belgique)
- Congo Nouveau (République démocratique du Congo)
- UNIS, réseau panafricain de lutte contre la corruption (République démocratique du Congo)
- Observatoire d'Etudes et d'Appui à la Responsabilité Sociale et de l'Environnement (République démocratique du Congo)
- African Resources Watch (République démocratique du Congo)
- ARTICLE 19
- Lucha (République démocratique du Congo)
- FIDH (Fédération internationale pour les droits humains), dans le cadre de l’Observatoire pour la protection des défenseurs des droits de l’Homme
- OMCT (Organisation mondiale contre la torture), dans le cadre de l’Observatoire pour la protection des défenseurs des droits de l’Homme
- Filimbi (République démocratique du Congo)
- OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
- Centre for Free Expression (Canada)
- Union Syndicale Solidaires (France)
- Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP)
- Oživení (Czech Republic)
- Sciences Citoyennes (France)
- Open Secrets (South Africa)
- African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL)
- Transparency International
- Campax (Switzerland)
- Transparency International - Bulgaria (Bulgarie)
- Protect (United Kingdom)
- Ligue des droits de l’Homme (France)
- SpeakOut SpeakUp Ltd (United Kingdom)
- WBN - Whistleblower Netzwerk e.V. (Germany)
- Transparency International Rwanda
- Transparency International Initiative Madagascar
- Transparency Mauritius