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Silent witnesses: what do three corpses must do with a corruption case?

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At lunchtime on Saturday Might 9 2015, the employees at La Quinta Inn in Springfield, Missouri, determined they’d higher see why the bikers in rooms 216 and 218 had not checked out. The 2 males had arrived three days earlier, pausing as they rode their Harleys alongside Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles. Their accents had been uncommon: the clipped vowels of white South Africans. One in every of them had handed by means of the foyer the earlier night. However there had been no signal of them since. 

At 1.06pm, the police took a name from the motel. In room 216, the employees had discovered one visitor mendacity bare on his mattress. In room 218, the opposite was on the ground of the lavatory in his underwear. Each had been lifeless however there was nothing to indicate what had killed them. After they arrived, the emergency responders jumped to a terrifying conclusion. They took one take a look at the diarrhoea, learnt the lads’s origins and considered the lethal African virus that was within the information: was this Ebola? 

The native health worker turned to the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention, the federal company that handles such circumstances. No, this wasn’t Ebola. Nevertheless it was one other illness endemic in Africa. Six weeks later, Springfield police introduced that the reason for demise had been recognized as malaria. 

Amongst those that had been alarmed by information of the deaths had been investigators at the Serious Fraud Office in London who had been engaged on a high-stakes corruption case. Their goal was a multibillion-dollar mining home based by three ex-Soviet oligarchs that had as soon as ranked excessive within the FTSE 100 checklist of Britain’s most precious corporations: Eurasian Pure Sources Company, or ENRC. The boys in rooms 216 and 218 — Gerrit Strydom and James Bethel — had held senior positions in ENRC’s African arm, the unit on the centre of the suspected corruption. Each Bethel and Strydom had been potential witnesses, and the SFO investigators had made contact with at the very least one among them to rearrange an interview. Now their mouths had completely closed. 

Former ENRC executives James Bethel, left, and Gerrit Strydom

5 years on, a Monetary Instances investigation has discovered that the malaria analysis is now open to critical query, a lot in order that one main unbiased knowledgeable believes it can not have been the reason for demise. Medical data and different case paperwork, in addition to interviews with these concerned, elevate main doubts concerning the analysis. The truth that the Springfield police power has quietly stored its investigation open could counsel even they’ve an open thoughts concerning the causes of the lads’s deaths. After which, through the previous 12 months, the FBI took over

Like their British counterparts, the US investigators are left with inquiries to which there will not be, and should by no means be, clear solutions: if malaria didn’t kill the 2 males, what did? And are their deaths linked in any method to these of others who operated in the identical murky world? That world encompasses a number of the most harmful locations to do enterprise, each in Africa and the previous Soviet Union. Multinationals that function there are among the many riskiest corporations to work for.


£20bn


Valuation of ENRC in 2008, after it entered the FTSE 100

Those that know these locations nicely say that, when the pursuit of revenue turns violent, it may be onerous to know from which route the menace comes. A few of those that have died lately seem to have been silenced; others could have been taken out by their bosses’ rivals, maybe to ship a message, or by these with direct or oblique pursuits within the companies during which they operated. Whether or not the lads whose deaths the FT has investigated had been killed could by no means be clearly established, and in the event that they had been, the character of the world they lived in is such that the id of these accountable, and even the vary of potential suspects, could stay eternally unknown. 


There was nothing untoward in André Bekker’s method as he and his colleagues shared a bottle of wine after work at their workplace in Johannesburg on Friday October 28 2016. One other spring night below the dazzling skies of the Highveld was starting. Bekker was his regular convivial self. He was getting divorced however had met somebody new. Portly as he approached 60, he was what they referred to as a “stone man” — a geologist. Among the best round, in actual fact. Bekker may inform you if that stretch of scrubland on which you had staked your traders’ cash actually did comprise the treasure you hoped for. And he was identified for telling it straight, by no means massaging the information. 

At round 8pm, Bekker headed all the way down to the automobile park. A colleague, driving away, noticed him placing his laptop computer within the boot of his car. It was his pleasure and pleasure, an Audi Quattro A4, glimmering white. At 8.16pm, the automobile pulled out very slowly. It continued west, within the route of Bekker’s home, however after 22 minutes got here to a halt on a again road. At about 9pm, a resident observed the white Audi however thought nothing of it — till, half an hour or so later, he heard explosions. He ran exterior. The automobile was engulfed in flames. As soon as the blaze had been extinguished, those that dared to method made out a charred human type inside, the cranium resting in opposition to the door. It took an examination of dental data to verify that the corpse was Bekker. 

Just a few days after Bekker’s demise, his employer, an American mining investor referred to as Preston Haskell, employed a personal detective. Clement Jackson was a leathery Afrikaner, a former police colonel. Jackson, the data of his investigation present, quickly found that the hopelessly overstretched police had been unlikely to resolve Bekker’s homicide. A homicide it clearly was, as far as Jackson was involved: Bekker’s physique had been discovered on the again seat of the automobile and Jackson established that it could have been virtually unimaginable to commit suicide by igniting the car from there. Johannesburg was suffering from violent theft. However what sort of thief boosts a car then instantly torches it on a suburban street with its proprietor, his laptop computer, his cellphone and even his costly watch nonetheless inside? As for his household, all of them had alibis. 

André Bekker beside his Audi; the burnt-out automobile after his demise

An attendant at a storage instructed Jackson that at exactly the time Bekker’s automobile was parked two blocks away, two white males had approached him and requested to borrow a canister to purchase 5 litres of gas. They promised to return it however by no means did. In the event that they had been the killers, that might clarify the extreme warmth of the hearth, which had scorched away any hint of DNA proof. It may additionally clarify why the car’s monitoring system prompt the important thing fob had left the automobile for a couple of minutes earlier than it was set alight. However the attendant may give solely obscure descriptions and the CCTV footage had not been saved. 

Then, Jackson’s experiences present, his contacts within the native crime gangs claimed to have a supply who stated a contract on Bekker’s life had been paid out. Even when that was true, and never just a few gangland chancer’s try and safe a reward, there was not sufficient to establish any hitmen or whoever may need instructed them. 

Just a few weeks into his inquiries, Jackson went to see a delicate supply in Johannesburg’s enterprise district. That was when he heard of ENRC. The multinational mining company had been based by three businessmen from Central Asia, who had secured wealthy mines in Kazakhstan through the post-Soviet shotgun privatisations. In 2007, the UK market regulator had allowed them to promote a few of their shares on the London Inventory Change, although they had been below investigation in Belgium — later settled with none admission of wrongdoing — for suspected cash laundering. The corporate swiftly entered the FTSE 100, valued at £20bn. The billionaire founders — Alexander Machkevitch, Patokh Chodiev and Alijan Ibragimov, often known as the Trio — had been quickly at odds with the non-executive administrators of ENRC plc. One referred to as the oligarchs’ approach “more Soviet than City”

When an nameless whistleblower at one of many Kazakh mines alleged in 2010 that bosses there have been on the take, ENRC’s administration in London employed a Metropolis lawyer referred to as Neil Gerrard to conduct an inside investigation. Gerrard would later state in a court docket submitting that he found that there have been doubtlessly nonetheless extra troubling issues within the African mines ENRC had purchased after itemizing in London. He unearthed what he believed was proof of bribery overseen by sure ENRC executives near the Trio within the acquisition of its African property. Gerrard was on account of hand his findings over to the UK’s Severe Fraud Workplace within the hope that ENRC may obtain a settlement when, in early 2013, the corporate’s executives fired him. 

It was at this level that the SFO’s investigators introduced their very own legal investigation into ENRC “targeted on allegations of fraud, bribery and corruption across the acquisition of considerable mineral property”. That investigation continues to be going. ENRC has sued both the SFO and Gerrard, accusing them of conspiring to prepare dinner up a scandal, in response to which Gerrard filed a defence that exposed his account of the inner investigation. 

In response to that submitting, earlier than he was fired Gerrard had noticed one thing unusual in one among ENRC’s African acquisitions. It proved to be a sample that’s borne out by the corporate’s company filings, reviewed by the FT. ENRC would spend a whole bunch of tens of millions of {dollars} at a time to purchase a prospect, mine or smelter that turned out to be price far much less. The transactions transferred enormous sums from the London-listed public firm ENRC to the homeowners of the property being acquired. In some cases, these owners were the Trio themselves. In others, the homeowners had been hidden behind anonymously held offshore corporations. 

The billionaire founders of ENRC, from left: Patokh Chodiev; Alijan Ibragimov; Alexander Machkevitch

One such deal had taken place in December 2011. In response to an announcement to the London Inventory Change, ENRC had agreed to pay $295m to purchase from an organization registered in Mauritius an organization registered within the British Virgin Islands, which in flip owned the Kongoni manganese prospect within the South African stretch of the Kalahari Desert. Inside two years, ENRC had written down the prospect’s worth by $64m greater than it had paid for it. The corporate’s annual report blamed “downward strain on costs”. However a geologist who had made an evaluation of Kongoni believed that the information had by no means supported the large value ENRC had paid. He had been telling individuals within the trade as a lot, based on two of these he spoke with — a declare that prompt the deal had been intentionally inflated. His identify was André Bekker. 


After piecing collectively particulars of the Kongoni transaction, Clement Jackson recorded in one among his investigation experiences, proven to the FT, that if Bekker knew about any manipulation of geological knowledge to facilitate a enterprise deal, he “may have been a goal for successful to silence him”. However Jackson knew he could be unable to analyze that risk alone. In April 2019, he flew to London and made his method to the SFO headquarters off Trafalgar Sq.. He spent two days speaking the investigators on the ENRC case by means of what he had learnt.

Personal detective Clement Jackson

He instructed them concerning the host of businessmen, fixers and middlemen concerned within the Kongoni deal. They included Mike Nunn, a mining entrepreneur who was the founder and government chairman of the mining firm, Amari, which had offered the Kongoni prospect to the anonymously owned firm in Mauritius which then offered it on to ENRC. The deal had left others who stood to revenue indignant. A fixer who stated he had made introductions claimed that Nunn had calculated the fixer’s share primarily based on a sale value of about $150m, half what ENRC had paid. Nunn disputes that. Different shareholders additionally had issues concerning the transaction, together with how a lot was truly paid and to whom. Nunn instructed the FT: “The transaction was concluded to the suitable worldwide requirements of governance, supported by main companies of attorneys, accountants and trade consultants and the valuation was agreed primarily based upon unbiased assessments in-line with greatest observe M&A within the sector.”


$295m


Quantity ENRC paid to purchase a South African mining prospect in 2011. Then inside two years, ENRC had written down the prospect’s worth by $64m greater than it had been bought for

Clement Jackson left London with the impression that the SFO had been wanting into the Kongoni transaction earlier than he bought in contact. From the best way the investigators talked about Bekker, it even appeared to Jackson that they could have been involved with him — that means that he would have been an lively witness within the corruption investigation on the time of his demise. Jackson’s personal supply — the one who had first alerted him to the ENRC case — had instructed him that a number of witnesses to the alleged corruption had been in concern of their lives and others had been lifeless.

The SFO declined to reply the FT’s questions concerning the ENRC case however an individual with data of it confirmed that at the very least one potential witness was too afraid to speak to the investigators. After which there have been the witnesses who would by no means communicate once more. 


When, after itemizing their Kazakh mining firm in London, the Trio determined to develop into Africa, they’d given the job to a hefty American referred to as Victor Hanna. They trusted him. In time, he would go away his spouse and youngsters and marry one among their daughters. And he may minimize offers. However he wanted somebody to supervise the technical enterprise of extracting metallic from the bottom. For that, he discovered Jim Gorman, a likeable Scot who had spent a lifetime within the trade, a lot of it within the huge expanse of poverty, conflict and immense pure riches the place Hanna was securing mining rights for ENRC: the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Gorman, like his colleagues, discovered his boss’s previous a closed ebook. Some believed that Hanna had served within the US army. Gorman, who bought on nicely with him, as soon as remarked that he thought he had been within the CIA. He was definitely capable of forge relationships with the gatekeepers to Africa’s bounty of minerals. Amongst them, based on Neil Gerrard’s court docket submitting and interviews with former ENRC employees, was an Israeli businessman called Dan Gertler. Gertler, based on a US Treasury assertion when it later imposed sanctions on him, was making a fortune by appearing “for or on behalf of” Congo’s president Joseph Kabila in “opaque and corrupt” mining offers between 2010 and 2012. 

In response to his court docket submitting, Neil Gerrard uncovered questionable payments working to tens of tens of millions of {dollars} that Hanna had authorised to corporations linked to Gertler. Gorman may need been concentrating on digging ores from the nice seams of copper and cobalt that lay beneath Congo’s pink soils however he knew a lot concerning the cash facet too. Certainly, because the scandal round ENRC worsened within the Metropolis in 2012, Gorman was aware of a plan to spin off the African enterprise Victor Hanna had constructed right into a separate listed firm.

Former ENRC Africa boss Victor Hanna; Dan Gertler, intermediary near the Democratic Republic of Congo’s former president Joseph Kabila

If the SFO’s investigators had wished to talk to Jim Gorman once they launched their legal case the next 12 months, they had been too late.

In Might 2012, Gorman and a few of his colleagues had flown all the way down to Johannesburg for a gathering. They checked into the Southern Solar lodge within the enterprise district and went for dinner at a close-by steakhouse. One member of Gorman’s circle recalled that within the previous weeks he had regarded “skittish and virtually fearful, which was very in contrast to him”. He appeared “extraordinarily drained and harassed” and “had turn into fully secretive”.

Gorman may put away wine by the bottle. He was keen on a Cuban cigar too, regardless of the orders of the medical doctors who had recognized circulatory issues, for which he had had a stent inserted. After a merry night, he retired to mattress. The subsequent morning, the others gathered for breakfast. There was no signal of Gorman. Finally they requested the lodge administration to verify his room. Gorman had died within the night time. Following an post-mortem that discovered his arteries had been clogged with clots, he was cremated. The small group of people that may have make clear the shadowy pursuit of African riches had grown nonetheless smaller. 


Jim Gorman’s successor as Victor Hanna’s quantity two in ENRC’s Africa operation was a South African referred to as James Bethel. Six foot and nicely constructed, Bethel had beforehand sorted a few of ENRC’s most profitable — and controversial — Congolese ventures. An ENRC company submitting described him as a “key contributor to the enterprise” who “performed a major position in new enterprise improvement and growth”. The promotion meant he was in possession of the sort of data the Severe Fraud Workplace workforce had begun to hunt. “For those who’re the top of copper-cobalt within the Congo, you realize issues, you need to,” stated a colleague. 

Shortly after the Severe Fraud Workplace’s legal investigation started in April 2013, the Trio took ENRC non-public once more. With the assistance of the Kazakh state, they purchased again the shares they’d offered on the London Inventory Change and shifted their firm to Luxembourg. However the SFO investigators stored digging. James Bethel was a doubtlessly necessary witness, based on an individual with data of the investigation. He handled Congolese ventures linked to Dan Gertler, the intermediary near President Kabila. And he had overseen a subsidiary that Neil Gerrard suspected, based on his defence submitting, of being a channel to breach worldwide sanctions by sending cash to a crony of Robert Mugabe, then president of Zimbabwe, the place ENRC had acquired a platinum prospect. 

By 2015, the SFO’s investigators had determined they wanted to interview Bethel. They’d talked about him throughout their inquiries — a lot so, stated one individual with data of the investigation, that the Trio and their lieutenants would have been conscious of the SFO’s curiosity. The investigators had made contact with him, based on two individuals with data of their communications, to rearrange a gathering. They had been additionally within the subsequent man down within the ENRC Africa hierarchy, Gerrit Strydom. 

A copper mine operated by ENRC in Katanga province, Democratic Republic of Congo

An Afrikaner with a thick accent, Strydom was primarily based in Zambia, the place Neil Gerrard had, based on his defence, gathered first-hand proof that Victor Hanna ordered bribe funds to high politicians. Strydom had taken over from Bethel as head of the subsidiary the place, based on Gerrard’s defence, suspected sanctions violations occurred. However he was a mining engineer, not a cash man, a long-serving ENRC worker who had been at dinner with Jim Gorman the night time of his demise in 2012. Strydom struck a type of concerned in investigating the alleged corruption at ENRC as a pleasant household man, “straight as straight will be”.

When Bethel and Strydom determined to depart ENRC in 2015, their colleagues settled on varied explanations. One thought the brand new administration the Trio had appointed after delisting ENRC wished to herald their very own individuals. One other thought the 2 had been cooking up some new enterprise with Victor Hanna, who had left in 2014 however remained near the Trio. 

First, although, the pair wanted a vacation. They did what many a middle-aged motorbike fanatic had executed earlier than them: flew to the US, employed Harley-Davidsons and hit Route 66. They each felt somewhat off color through the flights to Chicago — achy, nauseous and feverish — however put it all the way down to jet lag. By Wednesday Might 6 they’d reached Springfield, Missouri, and checked in to La Quinta Inn. They had been nonetheless feeling unwell however appeared completely compos mentis on the cellphone and in emails. On the Friday night, having organized to remain one other night time, Bethel was seen shopping for bottled water within the foyer. By the next lunchtime, they had been lifeless.

When the SFO investigators in London heard what had occurred, based on an individual acquainted with the matter, they hoped that the Springfield police would be sure any proof that may be helpful of their corruption case was secured. However they weren’t on the scene. A consultant of ENRC was — and was liaising with Brian A Smith, the Springfield violent crimes detective on the case. Shawn McCormick was a former US intelligence official on the White Home. He had executed a stint at an oil firm in Moscow earlier than taking a contract to work with Victor Hanna on ENRC’s African operations. Amongst his duties was to debrief ENRC workers after they’d spoken to Neil Gerrard, based on one among them. Arriving in Springfield, police emails launched below freedom of knowledge guidelines present, McCormick made himself the go-between the police and the lifeless males’s households. 

McCormick was not the one emissary from ENRC to reach in Springfield after the deaths. Victor Hanna travelled there too. So did Michael Baden, a celeb coroner periodically employed to work on sensational circumstances. Baden flew in on the firm’s request and joined the investigation that Jeff Harkey, the native health worker, had begun. They may make out abnormalities in sure cells, however Harkey had run out of the oil required to look at microscopic slides in additional element. He was “on the mercy of a cumbersome paperwork”, he recalled, and had been unable to get recent provides. Harkey additionally had a low opinion of the laboratory that had the contract for toxicology testing. Certain sufficient, when he despatched off samples from Bethel’s and Strydom’s our bodies, outcomes for under two of the 4 assessments he had requested got here again.

Lawrence Kobilinsky, a number one forensic scientist on the John Jay School of Prison Justice in New York, stated that no matter whether or not the lads had malaria, “you’ll be able to’t rule out foul play with no toxicology report”. But, based on a spokesperson for Springfield police, a toxicology report was by no means added to the case file. 

Each the pathologists, Harkey and Baden, instructed the FT they had been unable to establish the reason for demise — and recorded as a lot of their experiences on the time — in order that they referred to as within the CDC. Neither physician had clear recollections of what, if any, chain of custody process was maintained to safeguard proof. The CDC didn’t reply to questions on the way it ensures that samples it assessments are dependable, an space the SFO investigators in London got here to be involved about. 

The CDC’s specialists examined the samples they acquired. They discovered malaria parasites however didn’t, based on inside emails, conclude that malaria was the reason for demise. Nonetheless, on June 22, Springfield police issued an announcement that cerebral malaria had killed the lads. It has made no additional announcement on the matter since. And but the case stays an lively investigation. When the FT requested about its standing in Might 2020, a spokesperson for Springfield police referred enquiries to the FBI, “as they’ve taken over the investigation of this case”. The CDC additionally referred inquiries to the FBI. An FBI spokesperson stated the company had no remark, “in line with our customary observe of neither confirming nor denying the existence of our investigations”.

There’s at the very least one cause why the investigation may need remained open: a contradiction within the scientific proof that seems to rule out malaria as the reason for demise. From the outset, Bethel and Strydom’s former colleagues discovered it implausible that they’d have died of malaria inside hours of one another. True, they’d been on a fishing journey to Zambia two weeks earlier. Say they’d been bitten then: that will have allowed concerning the regular size of time for malaria parasites to multiply to deadly ranges. However, says Sam Wassmer, affiliate professor in malaria pathogenesis on the London College of Hygiene & Tropical Drugs, a large number of things have an effect on the pace at which malaria develops over many days, in addition to its severity. The one distant risk of the illness progressing at an identical tempo in two hosts could be if they’d been bitten by the identical mosquito. Simply perhaps, that was what had occurred to Bethel and Strydom on their fishing journey. 

After their preliminary assessments confirmed malaria parasites, the CDC’s scientists delved deeper. Within the emails they exchanged, obtained below freedom of knowledge guidelines, they mentioned additional findings. “An evaluation with 7 microsatellite markers indicated the parasites had been of various genotypes and actually one affected person had a number of genotypes,” wrote one CDC scientist to his colleagues a few days after Springfield police introduced the reason for demise. In different phrases: completely different mosquitoes injected completely different parasites into completely different our bodies, and but there was an apparently near-identical development of illness over a whole bunch of hours to the purpose that the hosts died inside hours of each other. Wassmer, who reviewed the CDC materials, rated the possibilities of that having occurred as “virtually definitely nil”. 


ENRC, the Trio and Victor Hanna vigorously problem any suggestion that there are grounds to suspect them of any sort of wrongdoing in relation to both the alleged corruption or the deaths. Relating to Bethel and Strydom, they level to US authorities having said that malaria was the reason for demise. They didn’t reply the FT’s questions on whether or not they have sought to analyze the deaths of their former workers. 


$6.8bn


The estimated collective wealth of the Trio based on Forbes

The Trio’s firm nonetheless mines wealthy seams in Kazakhstan and Africa. Forbes places their collective wealth at $6.8bn. They’ve fought again onerous in opposition to the Severe Fraud Workplace’s investigation into their affairs. First, their attorneys persuaded an English court docket that the SFO ought to be denied entry to the data of Neil Gerrard’s investigation on the grounds that he had been ENRC’s lawyer and it was due to this fact legally privileged data. Then, in a sequence of lawsuits, ENRC claimed that Gerrard, his regulation agency Dechert and an increasing forged of personal eyes and reporters conspired with the highest brass of the SFO to prepare dinner up the corruption allegations and leak them to the press to be able to safe extra charges for Gerrard and a win for the SFO. When Gerrard and Dechert filed their defence alleging that their investigation had uncovered corruption linked to the corporate’s African acquisitions, ENRC responded that their submitting “depends closely on hindsight and hypothesis” and lacks “any, or any correct, particulars” in assist of the intense allegations it accommodates concerning the firm.

© Mark Watkins

ENRC’s model of occasions is because of be examined in court docket in 2021. In the meantime, the SFO’s investigation is now in its eighth 12 months. A sequence of case controllers have come and gone. Jon Mack led the investigation from September 2018 to September 2019. On his watch, the SFO went to court docket to attempt to power Alexander Machkevitch’s daughter Anna handy over some paperwork. On the morning of the primary listening to, based on two individuals with data of the matter, Mack collapsed and was taken to hospital. He was acquainted with the Springfield deaths and knew of options that Bethel and Strydom may need been poisoned. Mack feared that he had been too. Though his medical doctors by no means confirmed as a lot, he was so shaken he wished nothing extra to do with the ENRC case and moved to a distinct job on the SFO. 

Lisa Osofsky, who took over as head of the SFO two years in the past, now faces a giant determination on whether or not to convey costs, search a settlement or drop the case. An individual with data of the SFO’s investigation says that witnesses who dare to return ahead face “creeping, enduring, endless concern”. That concern is multiplied by not realizing who to be afraid of: those that want to maintain ENRC’s affairs secret, any rivals who may want to hurt the corporate and its oligarch homeowners, or figures from the perilous areas the place it does enterprise. 

Like many others working on this world, the Trio have, in the middle of amassing their fortunes, cast alliances with forces which have proven themselves dangerous to cross. Patokh Chodiev as soon as instructed a journalist that the buying and selling home the place he and Machkevitch began out in capitalism across the finish of the Soviet Union “stank of the KGB”. Machkevitch, based on a former ENRC director and two well-sourced consultants in Russian organised crime, has maintained contact with Semion Mogilevich, a senior Moscow gangster who as soon as appeared on the FBI’s high 10 most-wanted checklist. The Trio grew rich during the reign of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the strongman who dominated Kazakhstan from Soviet days till 2019. It was a violent time. No less than two of Nazarbayev’s political challengers had been murdered, another claims to have been the target of an abortive assassination attempt and two members of his family have turned up lifeless after revealing particulars of his illicit fortune. The Trio even have enemies inside the Kazakh ruling class, amongst them spies, politicians and rival oligarchs, one among whom has been convicted of ordering the homicide of a enterprise accomplice. 

The second supply of ENRC’s billions — central Africa — isn’t any safer than the Kazakh steppe. A long time of venal dictatorship after independence from rapacious Belgians had been adopted by two wars, fuelled by pillaged mineral wealth, throughout which tens of millions died. President Kabila’s predecessor — his father — was assassinated. Augustin Katumba Mwanke, Kabila’s chief aide and architect of Dan Gertler’s murky mining offers, perished in a aircraft crash after telling a detailed affiliate that he feared for his life. 

Those that knew James Bethel, Gerrit Strydom and André Bekker know they moved on this precarious world. They need to uncover whether or not that value them their lives.

Tom Burgis is an FT investigations correspondent. His new ebook “Kleptopia: How Soiled Cash Is Conquering the World” (HarperCollins) is accessible now

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