A controversial South African multimillionaire and convicted fraudster has been ordered to answer questions about his involvement in the shadowy DRC mining industry.

And the Pretoria High Court order, which will force Niko Shefer to take the stand, also promises to uncover how figures within the local mining company became embroiled with the Democratic Republic of Congo's state mining company, Gecamines.

Gecamines was once headed by Zimbabwean fugitive tycoon Billy Rautenbach, who lost his position after he was implicated in the operation of a R6-billion cobalt theft ring. Rautenbach reportedly remains a close friend of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

Shefer, a former commodities broker, who also has an Israeli passport, was paroled in 1995 after being extradited from Switzerland and serving five years of a 14-year sentence for stealing R47-million from Trust Bank.

Accused of arranging for Zimbabwean soldiers to be trained in diamond valuation in a 2002 United Nations report on the "illegal exploitation of raw materials... (by) criminal organisations and persons" in the DRC, Shefer - former chief executive of the Liberian Greater Diamond Company - was also arrested in November 2003 on charges of fraud, theft and contravening the Corruption Act.

During those court proceedings, Shefer claimed he had been involved in concluding a business deal between, among others, independent South African mining company Metorex, Tokyo Sexwale's company, Mvelaphanda Holdings, and the DRC government.

South African security firm Identiguard International (Pty) Ltd - which has been awarded an R11-million judgment against the DRC government - last week won an application to subpoena Shefer and executives from Metorex about whether Metorex or any of its partners do or will owe the DRC government royalties or presidential tax.

Identiguard wishes to attach any debt owing to the DRC as part of its effort to be repaid for work it did in the country six years ago.

But Metorex, listed on both the JSE and in London, has denied it is indebted to the DRC.

"Metorex Limited has no financial obligation to the government of the DRC and submits that this matter is spurious," said the company's chief executive, Charles Needham.

Pointing out that Pretoria High Court Judge Willie Prinsloo has allowed Identiguard the "opportunity to further investigate" whether it could claim any funds from Metorex, its DRC mining operation, Ruashi, or its minority partner, Sentinelle, Needham said his company was "confident" the results of any investigation would be "unambiguous and conclusive in favour of Metorex's position".

Shefer is connected to Metorex through both Ruashi Mining - which was created following an agreement between his company, Cobalt Metal, and Gecamines - and through Sentinelle, a company in which he and his wife's Taniko Family Trust hold shares.

"At the very least," Judge Prinsloo said in his judgment, "there appears to be a strong link between Shefer and Metorex, Ruashi and Sentinelle."

In court documents, it emerged that Identiguard had entered into an agreement with the DRC government, in which the DRC hired the company to manufacture and supply security documents and licensing discs for use in its mines.

But things went sour when the government failed to pay Identiguard.