The world of international high finance is shrouded in secrecy – deliberately so. If we don’t know how money flows between companies and across borders, we can’t ask too many awkward questions.
But occasionally someone opens a window into this shadowy world. Invariably, this gives us a glimpse into corruption on a grand scale. Earlier this year, at great cost to themselves and their families, Congolese bankers Gradi Koko and Navy Malela opened such a window.
They leaked thousands of internal bank documents – seen by The Continent – which revealed the dodgy dealings of the Kinshasa-based Afriland Bank. The bank appeared to be helping the Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler to evade US sanctions (an allegation denied by Gertler).
The bank was also allegedly facilitating a money-laundering network linked to Hezbollah, and providing banking services to a company linked to North Korea’s authoritarian regime. For their efforts, Koko and Malela received death threats and were forced into exile in Europe.
With the support of the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa, they and their families are now in a new, strange city, trying to rebuild their lives. The cost of staying true to their principles has been to leave behind everything they knew and loved.
“Thanks to the silent revolution of whistleblowers like Gradi [Koko] and Navy [Malela] on the African continent, no crime will remain a secret forever, and the change we desire will eventually make itself felt,” said Jean-Jacques Lumumba, the grand-nephew of Patrice Lumumba and himself a banker turned whistleblower.
That silent revolution is gathering pace. The evidence presented last month by the Congo Hold-Up investigation – the largest ever document leak on the African continent – was even more damning, showing how the inner circle of former Congolese president Joseph Kabila looted tens of millions of dollars from state coffers; while the Pandora Papers investigation implicated dozens of African politicians in the shady, unaccountable web of offshore tax havens.
The job of journalism is to shine a light in dark places. That would not be possible without the conviction and the courage of whistleblowers like Koko and Malela.