The “Antwerp connection” activates around Tshisekedi after the fall of Vital Kamerhe

Succeeding Dan Gertler, Joseph Kabila’s favorite diamond dealer, it is a Belgian-Israeli network which has gradually been established in the entourage of President Félix Tshisekedi to manage, in addition to several security contracts, relations between Kinshasa and Tel Aviv.

The arrest on April 8 of the all-powerful Félix Tshisekedi chief of staff, Vital Kamerhe, suspected of personal ambitions, provoked a real stir in the presidential entourage and came to upset the fragile overlapping of interests contradictory around the Congolese president. Sharing, as best they can, the management of security contracts with Kamerhe for a year, a group of Belgian-Israeli entrepreneurs who have been advising the head of state for two years has seen its influence increased tenfold by the fall of the chief of staff.

He now has the upper hand not only on the security and identification business but also on the birth relationship between Israel and the DRC. A rise in power which is not without friction: a muted rivalry quickly develops between this group and the deputy chief of staff of the presidency, Désiré-Cashmir Kolongele Eberande, self-proclaimed “Monsieur Propre”. The latter requested the direction of the military intelligence to discreetly investigate the economic files managed by the Belgian-Israeli advisers of the presidency.

A veterans’ square

The most active member of this Belgian-Israeli nebula is the young Antwerp diamond dealer Rafael Papismedov, boss of the trading group REM Group and active supporter of Félix Tshisekedi since 2018 as well as during the presidential campaign. In 2019, he was promoted to special adviser to the Congolese president.

Around him, three regulars behind the scenes of African palaces. First Victor Nassar, former security advisor to the Israeli mining magnate Beny Steinmetz, who has been working in port security for two years through his company Broxel Port Security Solutions, incorporated in Cyprus. Then Steve Bokhobza, tireless broker of Chinese and Israeli security companies, especially in the field of interceptions and identification. And finally Ygal Cohen, more versed, for his part, in the construction industry, the oil sector and maritime transport (he has long advised the Moroccan group Satram). From 1998 to 2010, Papismedov and Cohen jointly operated the Cypriot company Petrotrade Gas GS.

Compulsory passage on security

The Papismedov, Nassar, Bokhobza and Cohen quartet has become a platform for security companies wishing to set up in Congo. Thanks to their interpersonal skills, they facilitated the resumption of contact between the Belgian group of security documents Semlex and the Congolese presidency. Signed in 2015 with the Kabila administration of a very advantageous contract to provide passports to the country, the CEO of Semlex, Albert Karaziwan, saw his group targeted by Félix Tshisekedi during his campaign. At the time, the future Congolese president had made Semlex the emblem of the personalized management of power by Joseph Kabila, the company being, on the passport contract, partner of a company controlled by a family member of the former head of state. Once Tshisekedi elected, his Belgian-Israeli advisers organized a meeting, in December 2018 in Belgium, between the Congolese president and Albert Karaziwan. Anxious to keep his contract, the latter agreed to renegotiate the conditions of application, and in particular to lower the unit price – prohibitive – of passports. However, a final agreement has not yet been concluded and other advisers to the presidency are actively fighting for the DRC to choose another provider.

Another company defended by the Belgian-Israeli advisers of Tshisekedi, the group Nikuv International Projects of Emmanuel Antebi. This company is positioned both on the supply of Congolese registration cards and also on the upgrading of Congolese ports (ISP) to international standards, a subject on which Victor Nassar is particularly active.

Private diplomacy

In addition to their various consultancy and brokerage activities, the four men also work to develop the emerging relationship desired by Félix Tshisekedi between Kinshasa and Israel. They played a key role in the trip made in March by the Congolese president to Washington, at the invitation of the American-Israeli lobby American Public Affairs Committee (Aipac). Guest of honor at the Aipac annual conference, the Congolese president announced the opening of an embassy in Tel Aviv and an economic office in Jerusalem.

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