Things started to roll in 2013 with a report by the Moroccan consultancy firm Menaa Finance, which examined the Congolese food chain at the request of the Congolese Ministry of Economy. That food chain appears to be in the hands of 3 conglomerates, which behave like a cartel. Price fixing, market dominance, speculation and corruption drive prices up to irresponsible heights. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the poorest countries in the world, chicken is 20 to 70% more expensive than in other countries.
One of the three conglomerates has been on the US terrorism sanctions list since 2009 “for alleged financing of Hezbollah,” writes the NRC. The owner, Kassim Tajideen, is a Lebanese-Belgian businessman with a food and commodity empire in Africa.
As traders, handy Harries use a market where they can buy cheaply and one where they can sell dearly because of shortages. They don’t create that opportunity, they just use the opportunity that states create
‘Never called once’
It is true that doing business with such a company is not prohibited for European companies, but trading in dollars is. And that is exactly what a number of Dutch meat companies did. for years. Such as the Meat Plus company in Den Bosch. Owner José Lago Conrado, a Portuguese with a Dutch passport, sells at least $50 million worth of ‘edible offal’ between 2011 and 2013 (frozen chicken backs, turkey tails, beef hearts, lips and kidneys and mdm, a thick paste of mechanically deboned chicken remains – the white chicken variant of pink slime to Congo. At some point, he alone accounts for 15% of the total Congolese meat import. Conrado is a great unknown in the Brabant meat trade. His contact person-customer-client-customer-friend: Kassim Tajideen, for whom he ships a bulk ship full of meat every few months.
This means that a large flow of dollars is flowing into Meat Plus’s account at the local Rabobank. It turns out that there is no reason for the bank to ask questions. Not about the size and frequency of the transfers, not about the identity of its customers or about blocked transfers. “I’ve never been called once about this,” say Conrado in conversation with the NRC.
The investigation by the NRC shows that Tajideen still has a business partner from Brabant, the Cuijk company Teeuwissen (now Van Hessen). At the beginning of this century, that company comes into the hands of the ambitious and engaging Lebanese Jalal Laham. Under his leadership, Teeuwissen’s turnover increased from €60 million to €300 million, partly thanks to trade with Africa. The bank, in this case ABN Amro, does not ask any questions.
In 2013, Conrado stops its activities under the name Meat Plus. Why? “Trade became more difficult,” he says. Teeuwissen will continue to do transactions with Congo until 2015. Kassim Tajideen was extradited to the United States in 2019 and was sentenced to 5 years in prison for money laundering and circumvention of sanctions. He was released early last year. Tajideen does not answer questions about “the sizeable deposits of cash or about business with Dutch meat traders”. Conrado still counts him among his friends.
Van Wissen and Koning: policy
The exciting story reads like a true detective and it probably is. But beneath the story lies a deeper reality. Demographer Leo van Wissen and sociologist and economist Niek Koning previously wrote about this on Agrifoodnetworks.org, Foodlog’s English-language sister.
Several African countries have greatly neglected their food security under pressure from Western countries, not least the EU, said Van Wissen and Koning in More people, slow growth – how to boost development in Sub-Saharan Africa Western countries wanted to be able to easily sell their food surpluses to Africa where there were shortages. Because they maintained it, the crimes described above could arise. According to Van Wissen and Koning, Western countries still abuse the privileges they have granted themselves through trade policy agreements.
The NRC’s story must be read in that broader context. Handy Harries, as traders, use a market where they can buy cheaply and one where they can sell dearly because of shortages. They do not create that opportunity, but rather use the opportunity that states create. The NRC presents the story as that of ‘Brabant’ mistakes (Brabant is the largest meat producer in our country) who ‘meat traders’ (traders who really want to earn a lot of money do not care about their market as long as they can buy cheaply and sell expensively. ) and of course Rabobank (the farmer’s bank of our country) is in the conspiracy (while ING and ABN and ABN Amro have previously been charged with money laundering in other areas because their systems – just like Rabobank’s – are not sufficiently alert to dirty business practices in many areas).
The NRC asked the involved Dutch banks for a response. Rabobank says it will conduct further investigation, even if there is no more information about the transactions described, because data is stored for a maximum of 7 years in accordance with privacy legislation. The bank does promise to act accordingly, “Even if current reporting gives cause for this and the bank should have acted.” The bank does not make any statements about individual customers. Just like ABN Amro, which says it does not go into individual customer relationships. However, the bank emphasizes that it checks transactions against sanctions lists and “that the aforementioned companies were not on it.”
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The opportunity makes the thief – ‘Brabant meat crooks in Congo’ result of policy – Foodlog