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DRC: Police in Brussels arrest Belgian businessman suspected of corruption

BRUSSELS, 7 Nov 2002 (IRIN) - Police in Brussels have arrested Belgian businessman Jacques Van den Abeele for forgery and money laundering, Le Soir newspaper has reported, quoting the city prosecutor.

The daily reported that Van den Abeele was accused involvement in a major operation to smuggle coltan, a rare mineral being mined in a rebel-held area in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and used in the manufacture of and telecommunications equipment, such as mobile phones.

According to the Brussels prosecutor, "each month, several million dollars accruing from this trafficking ended up in Belgian bank accounts". The money was then being transferred to Rwanda, where it was used to finance Rwandan guerrillas in the DRC. The Belgian judicial authorities had frozen the accounts used in these transactions, the paper reported.

Van den Abeele is the manager of Cogecom, a DRC-based import-export business founded in 1992. The firm is cited in the latest report of the UN panel on exploitation of mineral resources of DRC as one of those "violating the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development guidelines for multinational enterprises".

Belgian judicial authorities said Van den Abeele was only an intermediary for a highly complex network headed by Aziza Kulsum, alias Mrs Gulamali. She led the Societe miniere des Grands Lacs (Somigl), the company was used from November 2000 to April 2001 to organise the coltan monopoly to the benefit of the pro-Rwandan Rassemblement congolais pour la démocratie (RCD-Goma).

The Antwerp-based IPIS research centre revealed in January that Somigl had sold 60 mt of coltan to Cogecom in 2000. "Under the RCD's taxation system, the 60 mt exported by Cogecom should have generated tax revenue of US $600,000 for the RCD. Cogecom's profit can be estimated at between $2.5 million to $4 million," IPIS reported.

"Mr Van den Abeele declined to reveal any information about the destination of the exports and the identity of his shipping agents," it added.