The cosy world of the natural resources industry in the Democratic Republic of Congo was hinted at yesterday as it emerged that a spin doctor for Dan Gertler, a major investor in the industry, had a hand in delivering a communication about an apparent U-turn by the government that benefited his client.
The episode began on 24 June when Crispin Atama Tabe Mogodi, Congo's incoming oil minister, suggested in a newspaper interview that he might take away prospective oil blocks from Caprikat and Foxwhelp, two offshore companies linked to Mr Gertler, if they did not speed up their development.
Mr Atama Tabe was quoted by the Financial Times as saying: "We don't have any more time to lose and activities must be sped up. If Congo decides they can't do it, we will take back the contract. It's possible. It's our contract."
But two days after the interview appeared the Congolese oil minister offered a quite different account – in a press release put out on his behalf by The PR Office, a public relations agency that also represents Mr Gertler. Although the release stopped short of saying Mr Atama Tabe was misquoted, he said the FT "did not fully represent my discussion with the publication's correspondent in Nairobi".
In an apparent change of heart, Mr Atama Tabe said in the release: "Development is at its planned stage and we are comfortable with progress … we are satisfied that our expectations are being met."
Shimon Cohen, the chairman of The PR Office, insisted yesterday that his agency had nothing to do with the content of the press release. He said his contact details were printed at the bottom of the release by mistake because the Congolese embassy in London "needed a mechanism to get the release out, so we used our account [with the PR Newswire service]". The agency added: "We categorically don't do their [Congo's] PR and won't be."
The release did not name Mr Gertler, but Mr Atama Tabe did praise him indirectly, saying that "Caprikat and Foxwhelp have made significant investment into R&D and seismic investigations and have invested heavily in social welfare projects in the area". The government of Joseph Kabila – a friend of Mr Gertler – famously seized the Kolwezi mine from the London-listed miner First Quantum in 2009 and sold it to a company controlled by Mr Gertler for $60m. He later sold it on to ENRC for $175m.