2021-02-22 00:51:27 | Tough Sanctions, Then a Mysterious Last-Minute Turnabout

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Story by: Eric Lipton The New York Times World News

WASHINGTON — In early December, an Israeli billionaire named Dan Gertler made an unusual request to the Treasury Department.

A mining magnate who had been accused for years of corruption in deals he struck with leaders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mr. Gertler had been slapped with stiff sanctions by the Trump administration in 2017, effectively cutting off his access to the international banking system and freezing money held in U.S. banks.

He had unsuccessfully tried since then to get the sanctions rolled back by hiring high-powered lobbyists and lawyers, including Alan Dershowitz, who had represented President Donald J. Trump in his first impeachment trial, and the former F.B.I. director Louis Freeh.

But with time running out on the Trump administration and the incoming Biden administration unlikely to give his pleas much of a hearing, Mr. Gertler put one last offer on the table: He would agree to have outside monitors track his business and submit regular reports on his financial transactions if the United States would lift the sanctions.

The response came in mid-January, with only days left in Mr. Trump’s term: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin granted Mr. Gertler much of what he wanted, signing off, without any public announcement, on a one-year arrangement that gave him access to money frozen in U.S. banks and allowed him once again to do business with financial institutions worldwide.

The decision stunned and angered American diplomats in Washington and Africa and government officials and human rights activists in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Mr. Gertler had been accused years earlier by the United Nations and other groups of working with the then-ruling family on deals that looted the nation’s mineral wealth and propped up a corrupt regime.

And it has left the Biden administration scrambling to determine how Mr. Gertler managed to pull it off — and whether it can be reversed.

The episode has echoes of Mr. Trump’s last-minute grants of clemency to political and personal allies and people with connections to him, including the involvement of Mr. Dershowitz. It also highlighted Mr. Gertler’s use of high-powered connections in Israel, including people with ties to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and an effort to win support from the U.S. ambassador to Israel.

But the outcome was also distinguished by the secrecy of the process, which cut out the American diplomats most directly responsible for dealing with Congo and fighting corruption in Africa and appeared to have been handled largely at the level of Mr. Mnuchin and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The decision became public only after Mr. Trump had left office.

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The abrupt reversal of policy toward Mr. Gertler was extraordinary in a number of ways, an investigation by The New York Times found.

Among the findings:

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Source References: The New York Times World News

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