London (AFP)

The Isabel Dos Santos affair highlights the constellation of audit firms, lawyers or consultants accused of sometimes turning a blind eye to the dubious origin of their clients' fortunes, in particular the "Big Four", the four of the world's largest accounting firms.

This new scandal shows how hundreds of companies, "many based in tax havens like the British Virgin Islands, have been used by Isabel dos Santos to become the richest woman in Africa while millions of Angolans live in extreme poverty ", denounces the NGO Global Witness.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released on Sunday a series of documents describing the financial arrangements put in place by the daughter of former Angolan President Jose Edouardo Dos Santos to, he said, siphon money from public companies of the country.

These documents called "Luanda Leaks" illustrate in particular the role of "facilitators" played by the large accounting firms, which all worked for the Dos Santos at one time, notably PricewaterHouseCooper (PwC), KPMG, EY and Deloitte.

According to the consortium's investigation, these companies, like consulting companies like the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) or law firms, "have circulated money, audited accounts, created front companies, suggested Ways to Avoid Taxes by Ignoring the Warning Signs, "writes the ICIJ.

KPMG did not respond to requests for comment from AFP. EY says it respects the law and does not speak to its customers for confidentiality reasons, as does Deloitte, who points out "no longer working for Finstar", a satellite TV company where the Dos Santos were invested.

- "Warning signals" -

A BCG spokesperson said that in Angola, the consulting company "had examined payment structures and contracts (..) to ensure their compliance with the policies in force and to avoid corruption and other risks. ".

PwC, particularly implicated by the "Luanda Leaks", reacted by affirming "to immediately launch an internal investigation" and to put an end to "all work for entities controlled by the Dos Santos family".

And heads could start to fall as a result of the revelations.

"The resignation of PwC manager for Angola and Portugal Jaime Esteves is probably just the beginning of an in-depth re-evaluation of business ties with Isabel Dos Santos," said Alex Vines, analyst at Chatham think-tank. House.

Dos Santos, who is the subject of an investigation by the Angolan justice system, which has blocked her accounts and local assets, describes these accusations as politically motivated lies.

The ICIJ notably points out that Ms. Dos Santos, as "politically exposed figures" should, as required by European law, have been assessed by audit and law firms to detect possible signals of corruption or conflicts of interest.

Most Western banks, subject to stricter rules than these firms, have also refused to work for Ms. Dos Santos, notes the ICIJ.

But "the warning signs appeared when she was appointed director of" Sonangol, the state oil company in Angola, notes Daniel Bruce, director general of Transparency International UK, interviewed by AFP.

This is the latest scandal to date for a sector that has a lot of it. The bankruptcy of Enron and the role played by Arthur Andersen who had validated his falsified accounts sounded the death knell for the "Big Five" at the dawn of the 2000s.

- Sumptuous properties -

In the United Kingdom, these audit firms are also criticized for having certified the accounts of groups that were collapsing without acting, such as the department store chain BHS, the construction group Carillion or the tour operator Thomas Cook.

The role of real estate agents or other intermediaries who enabled Ms. Dos Santos to acquire three sumptuous properties in London or a yacht is also denounced by the consortium's investigation.

A report from the NGO Transparency International in October was already pinpointing the jewelry, racing cars and other luxury properties involved in the dirty money laundering circuit transiting through the United Kingdom.

Finally, law firms "important in Portugal", former colonizer of Angola, are accused by the ICIJ of having helped Mrs. Dos Santos to create front companies in tax havens like Hong Kong or Mauritius , which make it difficult to trace funds and cooperate loosely or not at all with the authorities of other countries.

"In too many places like the British Overseas Territories, it is still too easy to create anonymous companies, place suspicious fortunes there, and use them to buy luxury properties or goods" thereby laundering these funds , denounces Global Witness.

There is "a lack of enforcement (anti-corruption and money laundering laws in the UK) and no credible incentive to make sure the checks are done," adds Daniel Bruce.

For Tax Justice Network, as long as there is no global adherence to the standards against money laundering, corruption and breaches of tax obligations will be fine.

© 2020 AFP