Niotan Inc., of Mound House, Nev., is the first American company to be identified as a buyer of conflict minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is one of several companies cited in the U.N. study on how the illegal trade of the region’s vast mineral resources, including gold, has kept the war going by enriching both rebels and Congolese army units.
Many of the rare minerals are needed to make mobile phones and other consumer electronic devices.
Also benefiting from the looted minerals are businessmen in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the United Arab Emirates, as well as weapons suppliers from Sudan and North Korea, whose arms are purchased by rebels with the proceeds of the illegal mineral sales in violation of a U.N. arms embargo, the report says.
But companies far from the war zone, like Niotan in Nevada, are profiting, too, the report says. Mobile phones and gold jewelry sold in the U.S. may well have helped finance a war in which at least 200,000 women have been raped, according to U.N. statistics.
The U.N. report, which GlobalPost has obtained, says Niotan buys and sells the mineral coltan, used to make electrolytic capacitors for mobile phones and personal computers. The report details a four-step process by which the minerals move from the killing hills of eastern Congo to American electronics manufacturers.
The damning report is expected to be officially published in about two weeks. It is being translated now into the U.N.'s five official languages. On Monday the Security Council voted to extend sanctions on individuals and groups in Congo that are selling the minerals but the U.N. has not yet extended the punitive measures to buyers.
The report says that Niotan buys from three war-zone suppliers — Chinese-run Huaying Trading Company (HTC), Bukavu-based World Mining Company (WMC) and Etablissement Muyeye, one of the biggest minerals trading houses in Bukavu. These groups get their minerals from areas of South Kivu province controlled by the FDLR rebel group, the report says.
HTC, WMC and Muyeye sell their minerals to Hong Kong-based African Ventures Ltd., run by John Crawley, director of Nevada-based Niotan. Crawley did not return a call seeking comment. The report said Crawley initially told U.N. investigators that he had little knowledge of African Ventures, before admitting that his father had set it up in 2005.
A second company run by Crawley, Refractory Metals Mining Company Ltd. (RMMC), originally named Niotan Ltd., is located on Shing Wan Road in Hong Kong, the same street as African Ventures. Refractory Metals ships the minerals to Niotan in Nevada, according to a separate investigation by the advocacy group Enough, which runs an anti-genocide project at the Center for American Progress.