31st January 2020
Oil, Embezzlement and the Former First Daughter
Prosecutors formally filed charges against billionaire Isabel dos Santos last week for money laundering and fraud-related crimes. The announcement came just days after the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released over 700,000 documents — dubbed the Luanda Leaks — that detail how Angola’s former first daughter allegedly embezzled approximately $2 billion from the state to line her own pockets.
The documents reveal an elaborate two-decade-long scheme, which involved over 400 companies and subsidiaries spread across 41 countries. This scheme took advantage of her father’s position as president and dos Santos’ position as the head of the country’s state-owned oil company, Sonangol, to acquire and conceal her ill-gotten fortune.
Firms that dos Santos had a stake in were awarded contracts, loans and other favorable business deals, which are alleged to have been “inflated by more than $1 billion,” according to the ICIJ. One such contract involved a high-profile redevelopment project that resulted in the brutal eviction of many in Areia Branca, a neighborhood in Angola’s capital city, Luanda. The money received from these dealings was then funneled back to dos Santos through shell companies and laundered through real estate investments as well as energy and media companies.
Several companies, including PwC, McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group, are implicated. The allegations have already resulted in the resignation of PwC’s head tax advisor for Portugal, Angola and Cape Verde, Jaime Esteves. The company has also launched an internal probe investigating its work as advisors to companies linked to dos Santos. For their part, McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group have said little about their possible involvement so far.
In addition, the scandal has ensnared Portuguese lender Eurobic, of which Dos Santos is the main shareholder. While dos Santos’ 42.5% stake in the company is in the process of being sold — an announcement that coincided with the release of the Luanda Leaks documents — the lender’s anti-money laundering practices are under scrutiny due to its relationship with the Angolan billionaire. Further, one of Eurobic’s directors and a possible suspect in the investigation, Nuno Ribiero da Cunha, was found dead in his apartment in an apparent suicide last week.
Other businesses linked to dos Santos are feeling the heat too. A Swiss company known for its luxury watches and high-end jewelry, de Grisogono, has filed for bankruptcy following a failed bid to secure investors as a result of the controversy. Also, the Portuguese Securities Market Commission is looking into two Portuguese companies, Galp Energia, an energy conglomerate, and NOS, a media holding company.
In yet another twist in this saga, the man behind it all, the source of the leaked documents, was revealed to be Rui Pinto the founder of the Football Leaks website — which was instrumental in exposing corruption within Europe’s top professional football leagues. The hacker is currently awaiting trial in Portugal for his role in that leak and subsequent scandal.
Amid the controversy, Isabel dos Santos has insisted upon her innocence, asserting her wealth was earned legitimately, that all business dealings have been above board, and that these accusations are politically motivated. Given how complex shell company structures can be and the difficulty in determining ultimate beneficial ownership, it will take some time to untangle the web allegedly woven by dos Santos and her associates. The investigation is ongoing and global. It’s clear that there will be more twists and developments in the coming weeks and, possibly, months.