US exploring limited easing of sanctions on Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler

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By Daphne Psaledakis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Treasury Department is exploring a limited easing of U.S. sanctions on Israeli mining magnate Dan Gertler to facilitate his exit from the Democratic Republic of Congo, a U.S. official said on Thursday.

The U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on Gertler and more than 30 of his businesses in December 2017 and June 2018, accusing him of leveraging his friendship with former Congo President Joseph Kabila to secure lucrative mining deals.

"We are working to support the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo ... as it endeavors to remove corrupt actors from its mining sector," the official said.

"As part of these efforts, we have indicated that we are open to exploring limited sanctions relief as a conduit to the complete removal of Daniel Gertler and his business operations from the DRC."

Gertler has denied any wrongdoing.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier on Thursday that the Biden administration and Congo's government had proposed reducing sanctions on Gertler in exchange for his permanent exit from the country and said the Congolese government presented the plan to Gertler earlier this week and is awaiting his response.

The official said Washington's goal was to facilitate the removal of significant assets from Gertler's control and that any potential sanctions relief would need to be subject to strict guardrails, including provisions that would facilitate the snapback of the measures.

The official made clear that Gertler remains under U.S. sanctions "for his corrupt actions" and that his assets remain blocked.

The U.S. official said the U.S. was seeking to support Congo's efforts to improve transparency and economic opportunity in its mining sector and diversify critical supply chains to increase global security and prosperity.

The United States has previously said mineral resources in Congo and Zambia were essential to meeting enormous global demand for clean energy components and power infrastructure to support the growth of artificial intelligence.

Aggressive Chinese investment across Congo, Zambia and elsewhere in Africa has raised concern in Washington.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Richard Chang)