The case was raised when it was made public that the government has awarded lucrative forestry concessions to a company controlled by a Lebanese businessman who also runs a firm subject to sanctions by the United States as a front for Hezbollah. The concessions issued by Congo's environment ministry in 2011 to the Trans-M company, cover 25-year leases for hundreds of thousands of hectares of rainforest in the central African country. The concessions can generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues over 25 years.
Trans-M is controlled by businessman Ahmed Tajideen (also mentioned as Tajeddine in the U.S. Treasury documents). Ahmed Tajideen also runs another company, Congo Futur, which the U.S. government says is a front for Hezbollah. Congo Futur mentions running sawmilling as one of its activities.
The U.S. Treasury Department put Congo Futur under targeted sanctions in 2010, saying the firm was part of a network of businesses ultimately controlled by Tajideen's three brothers, Kassim, Husayn and Ali, and that this generated "millions of dollars in funding" for Hezbollah.
The sanctions aim to block U.S. dollar transfers linked to the trio, part of wider U.S. efforts to counter what Washington sees as increasing business activity in Africa by Hezbollah, which it calls "among the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world". Hezbollah has denied U.S. accusations that it is linked to money-laundering and the international narcotics trade.
Ahmed Tajideen, who is not subject to U.S. Treasury sanctions, says his brothers have no share of Congo Futur or Trans-M and that the companies are neither directly related to each other nor act as front companies for Hezbollah.
"I am the majority shareholder of both companies - Tajideen told Reuters - I created both companies independently of each other", he said. "My brothers have nothing to do with the companies".
But Trans-M is described as a "subsidiary" of Congo Futur on the website of Congo's official investment authority, ANAPI.
Leopold Kalala Ndjibu-Kalema, a senior legal adviser to Congo's environment ministry, said in an official statement that there is "no concrete proof" that Trans-M is involved in Hezbollah activities and insisted its concessions had nothing to do with Congo Futur.
U.S. interest in the Tajideen family sharpened in 2003 when Belgian police raided the Antwerp offices of a company managed by Kassim Tajideen and accused it of "large scale tax fraud, money laundering and trade in diamonds of doubtful origin".
The Tajideen family has operated real estate, diamond export, supermarket and food processing businesses across Angola, Gambia and Sierra Leone and Congo for many years.
The U.S. Treasury made Kassim Tajideen subject to sanctions in 2009 and in 2010 also sanctioned Husayn Tajideen and Ali Tajideen, who it says was once a Hezbollah commander in Lebanon. The Treasury says Husayn and Ali are amongst Hezbollah's "top financiers in Africa".
A Hezbollah official declined to comment on the U.S. allegations.
When the Treasury sanctioned some of the family's companies in 2010, U.S. citizens were barred from doing business with them. But some of the companies continued to operate freely in their host countries, including Congo Futur.
Israel has also expressed concern about what it says are growing Hezbollah financial interests in Africa, warning that West Africa had become a "hub" for Hezbollah. But according to Reuters, also powerful Israeli businessmen still retain good relations with president Kabila, notably Dan Gertler, a wealthy diamond merchant who controls numerous mining and other interests in Congo, many managed via offshore companies.