Rights groups, lawmakers urge reversal of Trump's sanctions reprieve for Israeli magnate

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Nearly 30 Congolese and international human rights groups and several U.S. lawmakers have called on the Biden administration to reverse a last-minute move by the Trump administration to ease sanctions against Israeli mining magnate Dan Gertler.

The U.S. Treasury imposed the sanctions in December 2017 and June 2018, accusing Gertler of using his friendship with Democratic Republic of Congo’s former President Joseph Kabila to win sweetheart mining deals worth more than a billion dollars.

But the administration of former Republican President Donald Trump eased the sanctions in a secret action in its last week in office, a license granted by the Treasury Department showed.

In a joint letter, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam and other groups urged U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Secretary of State Antony Blinken - recently installed as members of Democratic President Joe Biden’s Cabinet - to reverse course, arguing that the Trump administration’s move undermined U.S. anti-corruption efforts and set a dangerous precedent undercutting the Global Magnitsky sanctions program.

It also thwarted “the critical, challenging, and sometimes dangerous work of Congolese and other civil society organizations and activists,” the groups said.

“We urge the Biden administration to immediately investigate this last-minute license, and, subject to relevant information, reverse its decision. The US needs to ensure that the proceeds of alleged corruption are not being accessed and unblocked during the transition, or for political motives,” they wrote.

Senators Cory Booker, Ben Cardin and Dick Durbin, all Democrats, on Tuesday also urged Yellen to rescind the license for Gertler.

Treasury had no immediate response to the letter. The department has said it is aware of the Trump administration’s action, but had not commented whether it will act to reverse it.

The sanctions had prohibited Gertler from doing business with U.S. citizens, companies or banks, effectively barring him from doing transactions in dollars.

Gertler has always denied any wrongdoing and argued that his investments in Congo bolstered the country’s development.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Leslie Adler