The return of the capitalist of chaos: Philippe Heilberg and a US$1 billion carbon deal between the Democratic Republic of Congo and dClimate

Philippe Heilberg with soldiers in South Sudan. (Photo: Vice)

REDD-Monitor | 9 February 2024

The return of the capitalist of chaos: Philippe Heilberg and a US$1 billion carbon deal between the Democratic Republic of Congo and dClimate

by Chris Lang

Philippe Heilberg is a former Wall Street banker. “I used to be one of the highest-paid guys on Wall Street,” he said in an interview with journalist McKenzie Funk published by Rolling Stone magazine in May 2010. Heilberg worked for AIG in its commodities-trading unit, before he left in 1999.

Heilberg came up with his business strategy while he was working for AIG. “I saw the Soviet Union split up,” he told Funk. “Saw it up close. I realized there was a lot of money to be made in breakups, and I vowed that the next time I’d be on the inside.”

Ayn Rand is Heilberg’s favourite author. “Her individualism is extreme - but anything in its purest form is more powerful,” he told Rolling Stone. “Howard Roark is the hero of The Fountainhead because he’s pure. He doesn’t care about what anyone else thinks - not about social norms, the right clubs, the right people. We all want a bit of Howard Roark in us.”

“My view is that you want government to be as small as possible,” he told Rolling Stone. The sub-heading for Funk’s article about Heilberg is “Meet the new Capitalists of Chaos”“I’m there to make money,” Heilberg told the Dutch TV station vpro in 2011. “That’s my speciality.”

In 2003, two years before the peace agreement that led to South Sudan’s independence, Heilberg’s investment company, Jarch Capital, signed an agreement with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) for a 120,000-hectare oil concession.

In 2011, the SPLM became the ruling party of South Sudan. The government claimed that the contract was invalid. Heilberg accused high-level government officials of operating “outside international law”.

“You have to go to the guns, this is Africa”

In 2009, the Financial Times reported that Heilberg’s company, Jarch Management Group, had secured a “vast tract of fertile land in south Sudan from the family of a notorious warlord, in post-colonial Africa’s biggest private land deal”.

Heilberg told the Financial Times he had gained leasehold rights to 400,000 hectares of land. The lease, according to Heilberg was for 50 years. He gained the leasehold by taking a 70% stake in LEAC, a company controlled by Gabriel Matip, the son of General Paulino Matip Nhial.

Human Rights Watch reported that Paulino Matip’s private militias brutally cleared people from their homes. They set fire to villages, raped women, and executed men. All to make way for oil drilling.

“We started out here in 1997,” a villager told vpro.

“Then Paulino Matip’s soldiers came and they raped the women and attacked people. Everyone fled. When we were still able to grow crops here, we had lots of food. We had to transport our harvest to town by truck. And with the profits from the harvest we could send our children to school. Now we’re in a predicament. The children have been uprooted and will turn into thieves.”

Paulino Matip became deputy commander of the army in the autonomous southern region of Sudan after the 2005 peace agreement.

“You have to go to the guns, this is Africa,” Heilberg told the Financial Times.

“This is Africa. The whole place is like one big mafia,” he said to Rolling Stone. “I’m like a mafia head. That’s the way it works.”

In October 2011, Heilberg was back in South Sudan. “I am hopeful in the very near future that we will have agreements,” Heilberg told vpro. He hoped that the responsible Ministry, “probably the Ministry of Justice would have to sign,” he said. “I don’t know whether the President also signs. I would like him to, make me feel more comfortable.”

Heilberg admitted to vpro that he’d never been to the area of the land deal.

In September 2013, Heilberg appeared in a discussion about land grabs in Africa on Al Jazeera’s South2North programme. The host, Redi Tlhabi asked him about the people who lived on the land:

“You’ve been accused of leasing out communal land in South Sudan, and I’m curious to know, do you think the Indigenous People in South Sudan are happy to have you and other investors there? Is it to their benefit?”

Heilberg did not answer the question. Instead, he talked generally about land in Africa:

“Africa has a huge amount of space, a lot of arable land and a lot of water resources. If the land that is used is not where people are using it for grazing, or for farming, and it’s fallow, it’s just there. And some countries do not have very large populations but do have large territory. In that case it’s my belief that there can be a win-win situation.”

When vpro’s journalists travelled to Mayom County in the northwest of Unity State, the area of Heilberg’s land deal, they asked Mayom’s chiefs whether they were aware of Heilberg’s plans.

The leaders had never heard of Heilberg’s investment company. They asked why they knew nothing about these plans to lease their land.

“The land is owned by the government but also by us, the inhabitants,” one of the leaders told vpro. “Land cannot be sold by one person. Everyone must decide.”

David Deng, the managing director of the South Sudan Law Society, confirmed this. “South Sudan land is communally owned,” he told vpro.

“According to law, before any decision is made on whether to allocate this lease or not, the investor has to consult with the local community. Not just with the leader, but whatever decision the community made has to be respected.”

The reality was that neither Paulino Matip nor his son’s company actually owned the land.

In 2013, Heilberg spoke at Duke University to MBA students. He warned them about risky investments. You could lose all your money, he said. About his investments in South Sudan, he said,

“There is no governance; it’s a complete, utter disaster. Until ministers found to be corrupt are hanged or severely punished, it won’t be stopped.”

Jarch Capital’s connectionsJarch Management Group was incorporated in 2001 in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands. It’s an affiliate of Heilberg’s firm Jarch Capital LLC, which was incorporated in 2002 in the tax haven of Delaware.

Paulino Matip joined the advisory board of Jarch Management in 2007, and Gabriel Matip joined two years later. In October 2010, General Gabriel Tanginye, another South Sudan warlord, joined the advisory board. And General Peter Gatdet, yet another warlord, was also a board member.

From 2007 to 2010, Joe Wilson, a former US diplomat, was vice chairman of Jarch Capital. He was the husband of Valerie Plame, who The Washington Post outed as a CIA officer in 2003.

John Peter Pham, then a neoconservative commentator was on the board of Jarch Capital.

Larry Johnson was on Jarch Capital’s board. Johnson worked for four years at the CIA as an analyst and in 1989 he moved to the US Department of State where he worked in the Office of Counter Terrorism.

And Gwenyth Todd, an expert on the Middle East for the National Security Council in the Clinton administration, was also on the board of Jarch Capital.

The capitalist of chaos and dClimate

In Dubai, during COP28 in December 2023, a company called dClimate signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Democratic Republic of Congo to generate 100 million carbon offsets.

Philippe Heilberg is one of the co-founders of dClimate. John Peter Pham is on the advisory board of the company. In March 2020, Pham was appointed by Donald Trump as US Special Envoy for the Sahel Region of Africa. Before that, he was Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa.

US billionaire, Mark Cuban is also on dClimate’s advisory board.

According to Bloomberg, dClimate plans to pay a fee to the Democratic Republic of Congo for right to generate carbon offsets on an area of 500,000 hectares of peatland for ten years. Sid Jha, one of the co-founders of dClimate, told Bloomberg that the credits could be worth US$1 billion.

The company will use blockchain technology and its own digital measurement, reporting and verification platform called CYCLOPS. This platform will use remote sensing technology and artificial intelligence to demonstrate that deforestation is not taking place in the project area.

On its website, dClimate states that,

dClimate will contribute strongly to the development of the DRC’s national carbon registry, aligning with the guidelines of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. This initiative is expected to store and sequester over 100 million tonnes of CO₂, producing high-quality conservation credits.

Under the deal, the government of the DRC would be responsible for preventing deforestation in the project area.

Negotiating dClimate’s deal with the DRC

In March 2022, Agence Congolaise de Presse reported that,

The government of the DRC has signed an agreement which will soon be formalised by the signature between the Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the Environment and the US company dClimate, for the pilot launch of the monetisation of carbon capture in the DRC.

This followed a meeting between the President of DRC, Félix Tshisekedi, and dClimate co-founders Philip Heilberg, Sid Jha, and John Peter Pham.

But the negotiations soon ran into trouble. In April 2022, a delegation from dClimate went to DRC but did not reach an agreement.

Jeune Afrique reported Pham as saying that,

“[dClimate] represent the very type of high-profile investors that Kinshasa claims to want to attract. Their abandonment of the project – because of the lousy treatment they received from the minister and the ministry – will send a very negative signal to other American investors about the business climate in the DRC.”

But a representative of the Ministry of Environment told Jeune Afrique, that it was just a “procedural problem”:

“The project is still under discussion and it will soon be presented to the government in the Council of Ministers. . . . According to the forest code, any surface area greater than 300,000 hectares can only be granted by the Presidency of the Republic.”

In September 2023, Joseph Malassi, the Diplomatic Advisor of the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was in New York for ReFi NYC 2023, a meeting organised by dClimate as part of Climate Week NYC.

By then, the deal was back on track. Malassi spoke about the partnership that was being developed between dClimate and the DRC government. Malassi talked about the “long months that we took discussing with dClimate”. He added that, “This is going to be one of the biggest solutions for forest preservation in our context.”

In his speech, Malassi thanked Philippe, “who is always under the shade. He doesn’t want to show himself, but a real hero in the shadow”.

dClimate Inc.

dClimate Inc. was incorporated in the tax haven of Delaware in January 2021. Initially the company was primarily interested in climate data.

In a June 2021 video, the company’s co-founder Sid Jha explains that,

“dClimate is the first decentralised network for climate data, forecasts, and models. Our goal is to connect publishers of climate data and forecasts with consumers in a standardised marketplace where we intend everyone to be on a level playing field.”

In a February 2021 post on Medium, dClimate’s co-founders explain that the problem the company is trying to solve is that,

The climate data ecosystem as it exists today is fragmented and difficult to navigate for even the most sophisticated user.

The four co-founders are Sid Jha, Ben Andre, Philippe Heilberg, and Osho Jha.

The four of them also co-founded another company called Arbol, which they describe as “an insurtech platform for parametric products that are designed to help businesses build resilience against climate risk”.

Insurtech refers to the use of technology in the insurance industry. It aims to cut costs and make the insurance industry more efficient.

The co-founders explain that instead of employing people to evaluate insurance claims and determine payouts, Arbol is “parametric, which means that we utilize objective, third-party metrics like publicly verifiable climate and weather data sources to determine payouts”.

Arbol was incorporated in the tax haven of Delaware in 2018.

dClimate also works with a company called Chainlink, which, according to its website is “connecting the world to blockchains”.

Chainlink claims to offer a solution to the problem garbage in, garbage out. “Chainlink provides decentralised applications with the definitive truth about the external world so they can trigger reliable real world outcomes,” the company states in a corporate video.

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