UPDATE 2-Randgold in Congo gold venture with Israel's Gertler, state miner

(Adds quote, background on Gertler, Kibali projections)

KINSHASA, April 19 (Reuters) - Randgold Resources has entered a joint venture in Democratic Republic of Congo with a company controlled by Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler and a state miner, the company’s chief executive said on Tuesday.

The gold project in northeastern Congo with Moku Goldmines AG, majority-owned by Gertler’s Fleurette Group, and state miner Sokimo could allow Randgold to acquire a minimum 51 percent stake by backing exploration of the site, CEO Mark Bristow said.

“The mining industry is in difficult times and some of the companies that used to have exploration projects ... have run out of cash,” he told reporters in the capital Kinshasa.

“We have secured a number of joint ventures which give us a big footprint in the northeastern DRC to continue to explore and maybe be able to add another mine or even two to our portfolio,” he added.

Gertler’s Fleurette Group holds stakes in various copper, cobalt and oil projects in Congo, including two copper-cobalt joint ventures with Swiss commodities giant Glencore.

Gertler’s mining firms have been the target of transparency campaigners in the past. According to the Africa Progress Panel, headed by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Congo lost out on at least $1.36 billion in potential tax revenue between 2010 and 2012 in five mining deals involving Gertler.

Gertler denies wrongdoing and says he has contributed significantly to the country’s development.

Randgold operates the Kibali mine in northeastern Congo, which is adjacent to its new project. Kibali, a joint venture with AngloGold Ashanti and Sokimo, produced 642,720 ounces of gold in 2015.

Earlier this year, Randgold signed joint ventures in northeastern Congo with the Toronto-listed Kilo Goldmines , Deveron Resources and Loncor Resources.

Kibali and other new gold mines opened by companies such as Banro Corporation have boosted Congo’s gold output from near zero in 2011 to more than 25 tonnes in 2015.

Randgold said in the statement that it expects output at Kibali to fall to 610,000 ounces in 2016 and 620,000 ounces in 2017 because it will be mining lower grade ore. (Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and David Clarke)