By Sonia RolleyPosted 19-01-2020Modified 19-01-2020 at 18:53
As the Angolan regime pursues the former presidential family in its country, an unprecedented leak of confidential documents analyzed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) offers a rare dive into the daily management of the affairs of Isabel dos Santos and Sindika Dokolo. The daughter of the former Angolan head of state and her husband say they are the subject of a political scheme. There is more than one story behind the "Luanda Leaks".
" The timing of the investigation is suspect ". At the end of the phone, Sindika Dokolo does not fool around. " One of our law firms, PLMJ, had already been hacked in 2015, " explains the husband of the very wealthy Angolan Isabel dos Santos to Radio France Internationale (RFI). Rare fact, the “Luanda Leaks” exclusively concern the management of these two fortunes of Central Africa, he, son of the first banker of Zaire of Mobutu, she, the eldest of the children of the former Angolan president José Eduardo dos Santos in power for 38 years in Angola. “ We knew that several of our companies were targeted by a Portuguese hacker, these documents were kept and are used today to take control of our assets abroad. They use the press to manipulate public opinion and governments . ” Mr. Dokolo denounces the fraudulent origin of the leak, the conditions for obtaining the documents, but says he does not know the extent.
In total, there are more than 715,000 files, most of them confidential. They detail the internal operations of more than 400 companies and subsidiaries, established for the oldest since 1992 and scattered in 41 countries, in which the couple holds shares. These are email exchanges, with all kinds of attachments, contracts, minutes of board meetings, organizational charts, management reports, loan agreements or even personal documents, from mailboxes. employees of Fidequity, one of their management companies based in Portugal and of several other companies or service providers.
It is a palimpsest, a story certainly incomplete and fragmented, but which has been written over ten years in Portuguese, but also in French, English, Spanish, German, Dutch or Somali. All entrusted to the good care of the Platform for the Protection of Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF), a very young organization launched by two French lawyers to protect those who leak documents of public interest relating to the continent.
The responsibility of the men in the shadows
The investigation of the "Luanda Leaks", it is entrusted to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) behind the Panama Papers and other Offshore Leaks who shook the great fortunes of this world. It involved more than 120 journalists and 36 partner media, including Radio France Internationale (RFI), from around twenty countries. " We do not know the origin of the leak. Our partner PPLAAF just told us that these documents came from several companies and from a whistleblower who wanted to report criminal behavior, ”explains Fergus Shiel, coordinator of this investigation for ICIJ. It offers a rare dive into the daily management of two of the largest fortunes in Africa and their interactions with other continents.
In these hundreds of thousands of pages, Isabel dos Santos and Sindika Dokolo intervene very little directly. They take refuge behind a handful of intermediaries, trustworthy men and women whom they place at the head of a tangle of societies scattered around the world. The “Luanda Leaks” shed light on the role of these little hands, managers, lawyers, notaries, bankers, accountants and other audit firms which over the years have asked very few questions about this stranglehold of the dos Santos family. on the Angolan economy, the astronomical amounts of financial or real estate transactions, even less on the origin of their wealth. Even though Ms. dos Santos and Mr. Dokolo complain about the restrictions placed on them, the states that host their investments are themselves almost absent from the conversation. Millions in cash are transferred from Luxembourg to Portugal; millions of diamonds go from Switzerland to France, without the most obvious question being asked. Do these flows explain why more than 15 years after the end of a bloody civil war, the Angolan state knows a growth rate among the highest in Africa and even in the world when its population continues to live for nearly 40 % in extreme poverty?
To erase the bad reputation of a country and the risk attached to a name, facilitators are needed. The Santos-Dokolo dos are Portuguese, Swiss, British, French, Maltese or even Monegasque and the smallest of their bills is in the thousands of euros. It is they who have made it possible to convert billions of dollars into factories, equity investments, properties, yachts and luxury cars, in Angola and beyond, from Europe to the Middle East. "The Luanda Leaks" are also their story.
Take Angola back to Santos dos
Until September 27, 2017, the dos Santos clan was untouchable in Angola. On that day, Sindika Dokolo's stepfather lost the presidency and his family continued to record since administrative and judicial setbacks in Angola. " This is Armageddon, the regime claims to do it in the name of the fight against corruption, but it does not attack the agents of public companies accused of embezzlement, just a family which operates it in the private sector ", indignant the son-in-law of the former head of state. The successor appointed, no doubt reluctantly, by José Eduardo dos Santos, Joao Lourenço, does what no expert from Angola had predicted: total war against the dos Santos clan. " He can not fight all the battles head on, assured a relative of the new president six months after his election. It has opened up democratic space and is trying to regain control of all the attributes of sovereignty. "
Take Angola back from Santos dos? At the time of taking office, Mr. Lourenço, general and apparatchik, had neither control over the security services nor the presidency of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the former rebellion that had become parti- State . It faces an unprecedented crisis and does not master the levers of the economy. José Eduardo dos Santos held the country with an iron fist for almost half a century and his relatives took, thanks to his quasi-presidency for life, shares or control of the main companies of Angola . They have invested, with a handful of others, in all sectors, petroleum, diamonds, media and telecommunications, banks, construction, real estate, food and mass distribution, present through their hundreds of companies and at all levels. The couple estimates their cumulative annual turnover at two billion dollars. Its assets are valued at more than 10 billion.
In two years, the former strong man of Angola lost almost everything, reduced to a virtual exile in Spain, entrenched in a palace of 600 m2 on more than 1,500 land in an upmarket district of Barcelona. He remains silent as at the time of his presidency, even when his son José Filomeno dos Santos, former boss of the Angolan sovereign investment fund, spends six months in prison. Released on bail and awaiting trial, the brother of Isabel dos Santos is being prosecuted for embezzlement and money laundering. The daughter and son-in-law saw their assets frozen on December 23, 2019 in Angola, accused by the state of having caused the loss of more than a billion dollars in revenue from the public treasury. “ What the government is demanding from us could be covered by the shares in Unitel or Galp. Therefore, why freeze all our actions and even our personal accounts? There is a will to harm us , ”still plagues Sindika Dokolo. For him, the attack on his family is coordinated. A coalition of enemies that would bring together the Angolan secret services, Angolan or foreign officials and activists, consulting companies on investigations and business risks, all in the pay of a new regime that wants to forget that 'he's always been in business.
The hacker Rui Pinto behind the leak ?
The armed wing of this "plot", according to Mr. Dokolo, is Rui Pinto, the Portuguese hacker , author of Football Leaks, the biggest leak of documents in the history of European football. Even if his actions led to the opening of proceedings against players, club officials and agents among the most prominent, the Portuguese justice confirmed at a hearing Friday, January 17, its decision to judge him. According to his lawyer Francisco Teixeira da Mota, " the number of crimes attributed to him have been reduced " to 90 against 147 previously, most of them linked to unauthorized access to confidential data. The gravest ground of charge reports an attempt of extortion of a powerful sports agency, the Portuguese parquet floor affirming that Rui Pinto would have asked up to 1 million euros in exchange for the suppression of information belonging to the company Doyen Sports. The whistleblower was arrested on January 19, 2019 in Budapest, Hungary and extradited to Portugal. Among the companies that the latter has hacked since 2016, there are several related to Isabel dos Santos, including Fidequity, this is what the Portuguese weekly Sadabo reports in an investigation published on October 17, 2019. Its most fervent defenders his lawyer are the French Me William Bourdon, co-founder and president of PPLAAF, and the Portuguese Ana Gomes, former MEP, one of the voices most critical of the Santos clan.
The Luanda Leaks are, according to Mr. Dokolo, one of the pieces of a scaffold, patiently erected by Joao Lourenço who, not content with having obtained his designation at the head of the Angolan State, dares to bite the aging hand which fed him for so long, without dreading the consequences or secrets. Fear has changed sides. For several weeks, the clan has felt threatened, including abroad, its last refuge. Luanda is stepping up efforts to secure international sanctions and the freezing of the couple's assets, in Europe as in the United States and seeks to reach them as far as the Democratic Republic of Congo, accounts, actions, properties which could represent billions of dollars for a country in near-cessation of payment since 2014 and the fall in the price of a barrel of crude. " It does not scare me of losing everything, I have already experienced this with my father, " says the son of Congolese millionaire Augustin Dokolo Sanu, known for having created the first private bank in Zaire. In the last years of Marshal Mobutu's reign, the Congolese businessman saw his father divested of his property, which is why he would today be attached to "complex holding arrangements and finally to be protected to the maximum from spoliation of political powers ”.
As in her father's time, Sindika Dokolo perceives in this succession of events the sign of jealousy: “ They must be really politically afraid of my wife to do that. They want to make us responsible for all the corruption and bankruptcy of Angola. The Congolese businessman recalls that the new Angolan head of state is already at mid-term, the elections very close and that the time will soon be in stock. " We, we have 20,000 direct employees in Angola, more indirect jobs with the sales outlets of Unitel and Zap, we pay taxes in Europe and we are the first tax contributor in Angola, we have a lot worked and invested in this country, more than anyone. The couple of former oligarchs claim to have paid $ 250 million to the state last year for their taxable companies in Angola.
Behind the couple, the story of a ruling caste
Furious at what he considers a double standard, the Congolese businessman is not stingy with names. He readily quotes that of Manuel Vicente, a former close collaborator of his stepfather who, along with the successor, has become the sworn enemy of the clan. It is a reversal of alliance. President of Sonangol during boom hours and until 2012, it was Manuel Vicente who agreed to the editing, which in 2006 enabled Isabel dos Santos and Sindika Dokolo to take shares in Galp, the energy giant in Portugal . Five years later, he is suspected by the International Monetary Fund of having wiped out 32 billion dollars from the public treasury. Luanda had at the time laundered it by evoking operations undertaken on behalf of the government, but " not recorded in the budgetary accounts ".
Quasi-dolphin, Mr. Vicente becomes Minister of State responsible for coordinating the economy and soon to be vice-president in 2012, the year of the acquisition of the Swiss jeweler from Grisogono by Sodiam, the state-owned diamond company and the one of the financial vehicles of the one who is still the president's son-in-law. Threatened by a trial in Portugal for having given, according to the Portuguese prosecution, nearly a million to a judge to stifle two money laundering scandals, Manuel Vicente may deny it, he loses his job in 2017 and the protection of José Eduardo dos Santos. A few months later on the arrival of the successor Joao Lourenço, he again became a centerpiece of the Angolan political game.
Despite his commitment to fight corruption, the new Angolan head of state is putting pressure on the former colonial power, not to seize his property, but to silence the prosecutions, while promising to judge him more later. Manuel Vicente is still there, despite the revelations of the IMF, the prosecutions in Portugal, the disavowal of the patriarch, the humiliation of being in twenty-fourth place on the lists of the MPLA in the last elections. One of his relatives, Carlos Saturnino, who became CEO of Sonangol launches the first salvo against "the engineer" Isabel dos Santos and publicly accuses him at the 2018 general assembly of having embezzled 135 million dollars through front companies.
The signature of Sindika Dokolo
One of the revelations of the Luanda Leaks is to see the name of the husband Sindika Dokolo, compulsive entrepreneur, esthete and almost opponent in his country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, strewn these thousands of pages of confidential documents. Prompt in praising his wife's business talents in interviews, he has too often been relegated to the background of a disparaged success story, as if only one of the two ambitious spouses could be crowned, in this case Isabel dos Santos which enters the ranking of the world's largest fortunes established by the American magazine Forbes . Undoubtedly less exposed than his wife, it is however his signature that we discover at the bottom of the contracts the most daring financial arrangements, especially in Europe, which have earned Isabel dos Santos the title of richest woman in 'Africa. It is these acquisitions of stakes in foreign companies alongside the large state-owned companies which are today worth to the couple the freezing of their assets and assets in Angola.
The Luanda Leaks will no doubt give arguments to the enemies of one of the most protected and wealthy families in Africa. It is the word of the clan against that of its own managers, hence the need to fight the battle over the origin and processing of documents. Several procedures are under way, in Angola as in western countries, on the initiative of the Angolan government, as of the principal interested parties. They should increase in the coming weeks, thanks to the revelations of the team of journalists coordinated by ICIJ. Of the four largest professional services networks in the world (Editor's note the “Big Four”) who have all worked with Isabel dos Santo and her husband, the American audit giant PricewaterhouseCoopers is the first to announce an investigation into allegations that 'he himself describes as' very serious and worrying '. He promised to end all collaboration with the couple's societies. But as of the date of publication of this investigation, very few of the personalities and institutions arrested agreed to respond to the merits of the accusations. Even less will ultimately be accountable.
Four days before the publication of this survey, Isabel dos Santos hinted on Portuguese television that she does not rule out running for president in 2022. The tone is set. The battle will not only be judicial, it will also be political and media. Meanwhile, the husband Sindika Dokolo promises to justify everything, the almost systematic use of vehicles based in financial centers known for their discretion, the amounts loaned or invested by the Angolan State and Angolan banks as foreign, as well as the distributions shares and dividends. " It is very difficult for someone who comes from Angola or the DRC - which are countries completely blacklisted on the European markets - to open a bank account on European soil ", assures RFI this son of the elite of Central Africa. " If you are like me a politically exposed personality since 2001, it is of the order of the impossible. "
Beyond his origins, Mr. Dokolo presents himself as a businessman like many others, wealthy and well connected like the French millionaire François Pinault, collector like him. He willingly compares his practices to those of large groups such as Total or Bolloré and challenges the international press to investigate their practices. “ I can be criticized for using financial vehicles housed in tax havens, but is it illegal? First, I do not use it for investments in Europe. I only use them because Angola does not have a double taxation system. There is no reason why I should pay my taxes twice. "
Response rights :
Mr. Sindika Dokolo agreed to grant an interview to RFI to respond to the main allegations arising from the investigation of the "Luanda Leaks".
Konema Mwenenge did not react to the various questions from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and its partner media.
The US audit firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers International Limited , has announced that it has " taken steps to end all work in progress for entities controlled by members of the dos Santos family ". He said he had opened an investigation to respond to "the very serious and disturbing allegations that have been raised " and " strive to maintain the highest professional standards ".
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