June 13, 2020

Who is the Mysterious Rwandan Smuggler of Minerals from DR Congo?


Jean-Claude Gafishi was arrested in 2018 by Congolese security personnel and released

In September 2018, a Rwandan national and three Congolese were arrested carrying 100kg of Coltan at a place called Rubaya, in eastern DR Congo.

The Rwandan national in the intercepted group was identified as Jean-Claude Gafishi and was the “financier” of the operation. The men had concealed about 100 kg of coltan in multi-pocket jackets.

Gafishi has been subject of investigation by the UN Group of Experts (UNGoE) for years, but actively since 2017. The same man is cited in the latest report from the experts released Friday.

Gafishi has been leading a smuggling network that takes coltan, wolframite and cassiterite from Congo to Rwanda, say the UN experts in their June 2019 report.

The contents of coltan includes tantalum (Ta), a highly valued metal used to make capacitors for electronic devices such as cellular phones, computers, jet engines, and weapons systems. Without coltan, the majority of digital products used throughout the world would not exist.

Wolframite is highly valued as the main source of the metal tungsten, a strong and quite dense material with a high melting temperature used for electric filaments and armor-piercing ammunition, as well as hard tungsten carbide machine tools.

As for Cassiterite, it is an economically important mineral, being the primary ore of the metal tin. Another large application for tin is corrosion-resistant tin plating of steel. Because of its low toxicity, tin-plated metal is commonly used for food packaging as tin cans, which are made mostly of steel.

All these three highly expensive minerals are mined in Rwanda as well, but more quantities have for years left DR Congo through its neighbors, on to western markets.

The smuggler Gafishi travels on Rwandan Laissez Passer number is LP441792. Last year, the experts say they asked Government of Rwanda about this man, and other issues, but did not get a response.

Jean-Claude Gafishi’s travel document issued from Rwanda

This year, as the experts were preparing the latest report, they were granted unfettered access to everything they asked including about the alleged Rwandan smuggler Gafishi.

In February this year, the UN experts were in Rwanda, where they were showed 155kg of coltan that had been seized on 23 January 2020 and stored in Gisenyi, Rubavu district.

Rwandan officials stated that it had been smuggled from the DRC, the first such case at the Rubavu-Goma border crossing since June 2019.

The UN experts were also showed seven lots of untagged minerals seized from elsewhere in Rwanda since June 2019. They included 360 kg of presumed beryllium, 293 kg of presumed cassiterite, 250 kg of presumed wolframite and 54 kg of presumed coltan.

Rwandan officials stated that they considered cross-border mineral smuggling a “security risk” and used a combination of border police working with the Rwanda Revenue Protection Unit, paid agents and unpaid community-level informants to monitor and intercept smuggled goods, including minerals, along the country’s borders.

“They emphasized that it was illegal for untagged minerals to transit through Rwanda,” say the UN experts in their 2020 report.

However, with regard to the case of the smuggler Gafishi, the report reads: “Rwandan authorities confirmed the authenticity of identity information shared with them by the [UN Group of experts] but stated that they were unable to locate the individual.”

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