Just as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was trying last year to launch its first land-use planning reform, the then Environment Minister Claude Nyamugabo sealed the fate of a forest half the size of Belgium by concessioning it off to a Belgian businessman.
On the 12 September 2020 Mr. Nyamugabo awarded six forest “conservation” contracts covering nearly 1.4 million ha to Tradelink SARL, a Congolese firm one of whose shareholders is Aleksandar Voukovitch, a Belgian expat who made his career in mining, oil and timber.
The allocation of the concessions by Mr. Nyamugabo, against whom civil society has taken legal action in another affair, appears to be a violation of the relevant legislation. An administrative appeal seeking the cancellation of the contracts was filed by two local NGOs on 9 June.
Born in Kamisuku, in Maniema province, based since the beginning of the 1990’s in Lubumbashi, M. Voukovitch is today an associate of Afritalia Trading, specialized in oil trading and transport services for the country’s major mining multinationals.
If officially the Tshuapa and Tshopo province “conservation” concessions awarded to Tradelink are for the “valorization of environmental services associated with a REDD+ project,” the nature of the project the firm proposed to the Ministry is unknown to us, as is its competence in forest conservation or the protection of forest community rights.
Contacted by Greenpeace Africa, Mr. Nyamugabo declined to comment, referring us to the Ministry, specifically the general secretary and the general director. Both failed to respond to our mail.
The Forest code limits concessions to 500,000 ha. The Tradelink contracts cover 1,376,375 ha.
A 2011 decree requires that “a representative of local residents of the forest and, where applicable, of indigenous peoples” be present when concession applications are examined. This requirement appears not to have been respected either.
Neither the amount of the payments “agreed” with the Ministry – as the decree puts it – nor the amount of Tradelink’s bank deposit is known to Greenpeace Africa.
Irène Wabiwa Betoko, head of Greenpeace Africa’s forest campaign said: “How odd! Not a word from the Congolese nomenklatura — always so touchy about “national sovereignty” – when, sixty years after independence, a Minister sells off a fief half the size of Belgium to a company linked to a Belgian expat. These scandalous concessions must be immediately cancelled, and their allocation added to the already serious charges pending against Claude Nyamugabo.”
In addition to having been a shareholder of “many Congolese companies holding mining concessions,” over the course of his career, Mr. Voukovitch is also owner of the logging firm Compagnie forestière de l’Equateur (CFE). He has participated in the exploitation of a canal on the Congo River as well as in a financing scheme to recover debt owed by Gécamines.
In 2014 the major shareholder of Tradelink, a brokerage and import/export firm, was Giovanni Zunino, who runs Afritalia and is Italian honorary consul in Lubumbashi. No longer a Tradelink shareholder, he is today a giant in Congo’s mining transport sector.
Cited in the “Panama Papers,” Mr. Voukovitch was sued ten years ago by the Canadian mining firm El Nino Ventures, at the time partnered in a copper mining joint venture with his GCP Group.  According to El Nino, Mr. Voukovitch and his associate attempted to illegally transfer mining permits in which El Nino held majority stakes to “a newly formed company whose sole purpose was to be the transferee of the permits.”
While Tradelink’s current shareholder structure is unknown to us, the signatory of the concession contracts awarded to Tradelink last September is Pierre Nakweti Kikangu.
Mr. Nakweti is also signatory, on behalf of Mr. Voukovitch’s logging company CFE, of an 18 April 2016 logging concession contract, n°001/2016.
As of 2019, CFE had yet to file a management plan. Ten years ago its concession GA 032/96 was cancelled following the findings of an Interministerial commission set up to review the legality of logging titles. It was later reinstated by a court decision.
In 2009 Mr. Nakweti represented the US firm Triple A International, seeking to recover a Mobutu-era debt. The company had furnished the Zairean army with $14 million worth of “light military equipment.”
In 2007 Mr. Nakweti is referred to in court documents as a “magistrate” residing in Nairobi and the major shareholder of a Congolese firm called “Kivu Wood”.
A 2019 tax authority listing indicates Tradelink as having “ceased operations”.
In response to our request for comment, Mr. Voukovitch stated that he considers certain of our allegations “rather inaccurate,” without further specification. He suggested “before any publication, to wait for the result” of the 9 June administrative complaint. Mr. Nakweti did not reply to our email.
Greenpeace calls for the immediate cancellation of the Tradelink concessions and the opening of a legal investigation into their award.
Irene Wabiwa Betoko
International Project Leader, Congo Basin Forest Campaign a.i, Greenpeace Africa: [email protected]
Arin de Hoog
Interim International Communications Coordinator, Greenpeace Africa: [email protected]
Tel: +31 (0) 646 197 329
 « Contrat[s] de concession forestière de conservation pour la valorisation des services environnementaux associés à un projet REDD+ en Réppublique [sic] démocratique du Congo n°10[-15]/CAB/MIN/EDD/CNB/MM/1/2020 », 12 September 2020, https://medd.gouv.cd/contrat-de-concession-forestiere-de-conservation-pour-la-valorisation-des-services-environnementaux-associes-a-un-projet-redd-en-reppublique-democratique-du-congo/; RTBF, « Congo RDC, Aleksandar Voukovitch, Consultant à Lubumbashi », 14 June 2019, https://www.rtbf.be/lapremiere/emissions/detail_les-belges-du-bout-du-monde-emission-radio/accueil/article_congo-rdc-aleksandar-voukovitch-consultant-a-lubumbashi?id=10150415&programId=432; Email Aleksandre Voukovitch to Arnaud Labrousse, 4 April 2021
 GTCRR, « NOTE DE POSITION DES ORGANISATIONS ET RESEAUX DE LA SOCIETE CIVILE OPERANT DANS LE SECTEUR DE L’ENVIRONNEMENT EN REPUBLIQUE DEMOCRATIQUE DU CONGO SUR LES 9 CONCESSIONS ATTRIBUEES PAR LE MINISTRE DE L’ENVIRONNEMENT ET DEVELOPPEMENT DURABLE », 13 March 2020, https://www.gtcrr-rdc.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Note-de-Position-GTCRR_9_Concessions-foresti%C3%A8res_attribu%C3%A9es_par_MEDD_Claude-Nyamugabu-VFin_-sign%C3%A9e-le13-08-2020.pdf
 actualité.cd, « RDC : les ONG CODELT et OCÉAN déposent un recours administratif auprès de Ève Bazaiba pour obtenir l’annulation de six concessions de Conservation “illégalement” octroyées par Claude Nyamugabo », 9 June 2021, https://actualite.cd/2021/06/09/rdc-les-ong-codelt-et-ocean-deposent-un-recours-administratif-aupres-de-eve-bazaiba-pour
 Loi n°2002-11 du 29 août portant Code Forestier, 29 August 2002, http://www.droit-afrique.com/upload/doc/rdc/RDC-Code-2002-forestier.pdf
 Décret n° 011/27 du 20 mai 2011 fixant les règles spécifiques d’attribution des concessions forestières de conservation, 20 May 2011, https://www.leganet.cd/Legislation/Droit%20economique/Code%20Forestier/D.011.27.50.05.2011.htm
 RTBF, op. cit.
 Tradelink SPRL, « Constitution – Statuts – Nominations », 10 September 2014
 Email Aleksandar Voukovitch to Arnaud Labrousse, 24 March 2021
 In 2018, three of his firms held exclusive contracts with Glencore and Tenke Fungurume Mining. (La Lettre du Continent, “Giovanni Zunino wants to play it safe along Katanga-Zambia copper route,” 11 September 2018, https://www.africaintelligence.com/mining-sector/2018/09/11/giovanni-zunino-wants-to-play-it-safe-along-katanga-zambia-copper-route,108323059-art )
 El Nino Ventures, “Charges of Fraud, Fraudulent Misrepresentation, Misappropriation of Funds, Breach of Agreement and Claims for USD$ 850,000 + damages against Georges Kavvadias and GCP Group have been filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia by El Nino. The Hearing is now set for November 24th, 2010.” 1 October 2010, http://www.elninoventures.com/s/NewsReleases.asp?ReportID=421813&_Type=News-Releases&_Title=Update-on-Activities-in-the-DRC
 « Contrat de concession forestière n°001/2016 du 18 avril 2016 issue de la Conversion de la Garantie d’approvisionnement n°032/96/CAB/MIN/ECNT/96 du 06/06/1996, réhabilitée définitivement par Arrêté ministériel n°017/CAB/MIN/ECN-DD/03/04/RBM/2016, pris en exécution de l’Arrêté n° RA 969/817/OPP rendu par la Cour Suprême de justice »
 Fonds National REDD+ (FONAREDD), « Document de programme au Fonds National REDD+ Lot n°4 – Programme de Gestion durable des forêts Version 2020-05-28 [budget affiné] », 28 May 2020, https://www.cafi.org/content/dam/cafi/docs/drc-documents/DRC-Approved%20Programmes/CAFI-%20RDC%20-%2020200603_PGDF_AFD_vf.pdf, p.93
 Communiqué officiel n°4973/CAB/MIN/ECN-T/15/JEB/2008, 6 October 2008 :
– Title pre-Forest Code and pre-moratorium, but cancelled by order 063/04 of 08/09/2004.
– No processing unit.
– No area tax payments.
– Start-up plan absent.
Communiqué officiel n°6500/CAB/MIN/ECN-T/15/JEB/2008, 29 December 2008 :
– Title non-existent at the time of publication of decree 05/116 of 24 October 2005 (cf. art. 1 of decree), because cancelled by order 063/04 of 08/09/2004.
– Processing plant not proven, the portable unit not considered a processing plant.
– Absence of proof of payment of the area tax for the relevant period.
 « Procès-verbal de conciliation des comptes des créances des tiers sur l’Etat congolais et modalités de paiement », 29 April 2009. See also “UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT TRIPLE A INTERNATIONAL, INC., Plaintiff-Appellant, v. THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO, Defendant-Appellee,” 2 July 2013, https://www.opn.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/13a0171p-06.pdf et Journaliste en danger, « L’Etat de la liberté de la presse en Afrique centrale francophone RD Congo : Sous prétexte de la guerre… », 2012, http://afrikarabia.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/JED-Rapport-2012.pdf, p.50
 « COUR SUPREME DE JUSTICE SECTION JUDICIAIRE — CASSATION — MATIERE DE RENVOI DE JURIDICTION Audience publique du 30 novembre 2007 », 30 November 2007, https://www.droitcongolais.info/files/2.36.1._Arret-du-30-novembre-2007-dans-la-cause-PNK-c.-KK-et-consorts.pdf
 Direction générale des impôts, « REPERTOIRE DES CONTRIBUABLES ASSUJETTIS A LA TVA, ARRETE AU 28 FEVRIER 2019 », February 2019, http://www.dgi.gouv.cd/sites/default/files/2019-08/CDI%20LUBUMBASHI%20TVA.pdf