The United Kingdom Serious Fraud Office is investigating Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler over mining deals in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The DRC is home to some of the world's largest deposits of copper and cobalt, and its mineral potential is estimated at $24tn (£16.9tn) – the size of the US and European GDPs combined.

The UK body, which investigates and prosecutes serious and complex fraud, is pursuing its three-year investigation into Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC), a Kazakh-based mining company. ENRC withdrew from the London Stock Exchange's FTSE 100 in 2013 amid allegations of corruption.

Alongside four former Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation executives, Gertler is under investigation in relation to the company's acquisition of copper and cobalt mining projects in the DRC, according to reports.

Launched in April 2013, the probe centres on three sets of transactions through which the Kazakh company acquired five mining projects in the DRC between 2010 and 2012. According to the investigating body, the Congolese state sold mining rights to Gertler, a close friend of Congolese president Joseph Kabila for a small sum. Gertler then sold the rights to the ENRC, for a much inflated price.

Commentators claim that these transactions "deprived a poor African nation of revenue to the benefit of Mr Gertler", according to the Financial Times.

Prior to the Serious Fraud Office's probe, ENRC, which no longer exists under the same acronym, also launched internal investigations into alleged fraud at its African operations following whistleblowing reports. Taken private by its founding trio and the Kazakh government in 2013, the renamed Eurasian Resources Group could not be reached for comment.

Gertler, who amassed a fortune through the DRC's natural resources industry, has always denied any wrongdoings in his dealings in the region and has never been charged with a crime related to his activities. Gertler's Fleurette Group also declined to comment when approached.

"Mr. Gertler has always made it clear that his business dealings in the DRC are entirely proper and appropriate. That remains the case. Beyond that, he is not able to comment on allegedly leaked documents," the company said in a statement.

"I think it's a good thing because these allegations were made a long time ago. Groups such as Global Witness had carried out many investigations themselves, and always alerted both Congolese public and international community with regards to alleged illegal contracts and deals," Bandi Mbubi, the founder of Congo Calling exclusively told IBTimes UK.

"We welcome the fact that the SFO has now re-opened its probe, because legally we may be able to know exactly what happened, and Congolese will be reassured that a responsible body will carry out a thorough investigation. In the case it transpires that a crime may have been committed, this means reparations for victims."

Congo Calling campaigns for ethical management of ethically-sourced, conflict-free minerals in the DRC.

As uncertainty shrouds presidential elections in the DRC will should have gone ahead in November, analysts have said only a democratically elected president can put an end to the human rights abuse linked to Congo's mineral trade.

Cobalt: A Critical Metal To Clean Energy
Cobalt: A Critical Metal To Clean Energy