Kinshasa, Congo—Joachim Andersson owned and operated a string of failed businesses before he founded Mineral Invest and began mining for gold in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. During the 1980s, Andersson worked as a pastry chef at an all-night café in a Stockholm suburb. It was the kind of place frequented by taxi drivers and prostitutes. Stolen goods were fenced in the café, and Andersson learned about precious metals. During the 1990s, he began dealing in minerals from Africa, and he was sentenced to five years in prison for tax evasion relating to importing gold.

But in 2012, he was free and living in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa. From his office in a high-end villa in Gombe, the diplomatic district of the city, Andersson describes himself as a big-picture man. “The details are for other people,” he says. His colleague and best friend, the nephew of a governor during the...

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