The trove of leaked financial documents known as the Paradise Papers, have put Israeli businessman Dan Gertler in the spotlight, a position he usually avoids.
Gertler, who at the age of 43 has a net worth estimated at $1.2 billion, made his fortune from mining diamonds and other materials in Africa. According to the leaked papers, Gertler received a previously undisclosed loan of $45 million in 2009 from Glencore, one of the world’s largest mining company, which was originally founded by Jewish businessman Marc Rich.
The purpose of the multimillion dollar loan was to get Gertler to use his close ties with the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to secure mining rights for Glencore in the country. Gertler would pay back the loan only if he failed to get Glencore the mining contract.
The loan could raise questions over whether Gertler violated anti-corruption laws due to his relationship with DRC President Joseph Kabila and other leaders. Gertler has denied any wrongdoing, and his lawyers said all deals were reported properly and that he does not receive any preferential treatment in DRC.
Here are a few things to know about Dan Gertler:
1. Gertler grew up around diamonds
Gertler’s grandfather, Moshe Schnitzer, was the founder and first president of Israel’s Diamond Exchange. His father, Asher Gertler, ran the family business, which centered on sales of cut diamonds. Dan Gertler learned the trade from both, and later expanded the business to rough diamonds as well as diamond mining.
2. He took the business global
With initial family funding, Gertler started his own diamond trade business when he was 22 years old. His real break came in the late 1990s, when Gertler forged a personal relationship with Joseph Kabila, the son of the then-DRC president, Laurent Kabila. This relationship led to an exclusive diamond export contract awarded to Gertler. Laurent Kabila was assassinated in 2001, but Gertler managed to renegotiate the deal with his son and successor, Joseph Gertler. Dan Gertler has since expanded his businesses in the DRC, owning copper, cobalt and tantalum mines.
3. His business in Africa has been scrutinized by international watchdogs
Gertler has been accused repeatedly of purchasing exclusive rights to natural resources in DRC, one of the world’s poorest nations, for a fraction of their actual worth, raising concerns of corruption stemming from his close ties with Kabila. The International Monetary Fund even canceled a loan to the DRC because of Gertler’s underpriced purchases. Gertler attributed the low pricing to a lack of competition due to the country’s instability.
4. He is ultra-Orthodox
Gertler grew up in an secular family, but began to show interest in Orthodox Jewish life as a teenager. In his 20s he became more observant, and ended up in the Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, community. When not traveling to his mines in Africa, Gertler lives in Bnei Brak, an Orthodox enclave near Tel Aviv, with his wife and 11 children. He uses his private jet to make sure he’s back to his home in Israel every Shabbat.
5. He donates to many Haredi charities
Gertler is known in the ultra-Orthodox community as a generous donor who focuses his giving on the needs of yeshiva students and Haredi families. He used to hold an open house at his Bnei Brak home on the holiday of Purim, handing out envelopes containing donations for members of the community in need. In recent years, Gertler switched to a more organized philanthropic system and began sponsoring gifts for ultra-Orthodox families whose children have reached bar mitzvahs or are getting married. He also launched a program aimed at helping yeshiva students pay for dental care.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.