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IRH Mining Strategist Alibhai Linked to Congo Gold Smugglers, UN Reports

IRH's Alibhai implicated in Congo gold smuggling, led $1 billion Mopani acquisition, UN report reveals.

By Jack Wilson

7/10, 07:28 EDT
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Key Takeaway

  • UN report cites IRH Mining's chief global strategist, Sibtein Alibhai, for meetings with Congo gold smugglers in early 2023.
  • IRH has aggressively pursued mining deals, including a $1 billion investment in Zambia’s Mopani copper-cobalt complex and iron ore agreements in Angola.
  • Allegations may impact IRH's reputation as it seeks to become a key player in critical minerals essential for the energy transition.

Allegations Against Alibhai

Sibtein Alibhai, the chief global strategist of International Resources Holding (IRH) since April 2023, has been implicated in dealings with gold smugglers from central Africa, according to a United Nations report. The report highlights that Alibhai, in his role at another venture aimed at cleaning up the mineral trade in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, engaged in discussions with gold traffickers as recently as March this year. While the report does not mention IRH or Alibhai’s work for the Emirati company, it underscores his meetings with smugglers on behalf of Primera Group, a company he founded.

IRH, a unit of International Holding Company (IHC) controlled by UAE’s National Security Adviser Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has been aggressively pursuing mining deals in Africa and beyond. Alibhai played a pivotal role in IRH’s acquisition of Zambia’s Mopani copper-cobalt complex, committing over $1 billion to the asset. Despite the allegations, IRH and Alibhai have declined to comment, with Alibhai stating through a representative that he resigned from Primera Group in April 2023 to join IRH.

IRH's Mining Ambitions

IRH has been on an aggressive hunt for mining deals, aiming to become a key player in metals crucial for the energy transition, such as copper. The company has struck agreements to mine iron ore in Angola and is exploring potential deals globally for metals including cobalt, nickel, lithium, and graphite. Alibhai led an IRH delegation to Peru in April for talks with the government, highlighting the company’s expansive ambitions.

The focus on critical minerals aligns with the growing interest from western governments to counter China’s dominance in global supply chains. IRH’s strategic moves could position it as a significant player in the mining sector, especially as demand for these minerals is expected to outstrip supply in the coming years.

UN Report on Congo

The UN report also sheds light on the broader context of mineral smuggling in eastern Congo, which has fueled local and regional conflicts for nearly three decades. Congo’s government claims that much of the trafficked gold reaches the UAE after transiting through neighboring countries like Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi. These countries, despite having few mines of their own, have exported billions of dollars worth of gold in recent years, a claim they deny.

Primera Group, founded by Alibhai, was launched in December 2022 to formalize the gold trade in Congo and combat smuggling. The partnership, granted a 25-year contract to export hand-mined gold, sold 5 tons of gold worth about $300 million in its first year. However, sales have since plummeted, and Congo’s government is finalizing a deal to buy out Primera’s 55% interest in the gold-buying business.

Management Quotes

  • Sibtein Alibhai, Chief Global Strategist of International Resources Holding:

    "Resigned from Primera Group in April 2023 to accept the position as chief global strategist at IRH. Mr Alibhai has not represented Primera Group since 2023."