By Sonia RolleyPosted 19-01-2020Modified 19-01-2020 at 18:51
As Angolan justice freezes the assets of relatives of José Eduardo dos Santos, the leak of more than 715,000 confidential documents sheds new light on the business relations between Isabel dos Santos, daughter of the former head of state , and her husband Sindika Dokolo. According to the "Luanda Leaks", the latest investigation coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the husband plays a leading role in the couple's affairs. Portrait produced in collaboration with Joan Tilouine of the newspaper Le Monde.
Sindika Dokolo would like to speak only of the African works of art he collects. It is a passion and his ideal brush to compose the canvas that covers his real activities: diamonds, oil, brewery, cement factory, real estate ... At 47, this Danish dandy of Congolese origin orchestrates an empire and a fortune acquired thanks to his wife, Isabel dos Santos, herself a billionaire thanks to her father, the former Angolan president, José Eduardo dos Santos (1979-2017). The couple, willingly praised to praise the emergence of the continent and the virtues of African oligarchs, actually manage nearly 450 discrete companies with increasingly denounced practices. They are most often offshore, chosen to guarantee their tax optimization, holy grail of all dividend producers.
Since Joao Lourenço came to power in 2017, his long honeymoon with the Angolan state has ended. He who thought he had found an eternal martingale finds himself suspected, like his wife, of massive embezzlement of public funds. " It's a purely political witch hunt," says Sindika Dokolo. I am like a sheep in the corridor of the slaughterhouse. "
For the first time, the esthete finds himself questioned for what has always made his business success: having allied himself with state companies to benefit from public and private funds which are then distilled in a network of circuits offshore financial.
Has the State Been Injured ?
The Angolan state diamond company, Sodiam, considers itself fooled today, but it is Sindika Dokolo who, weakened, attacks it. At the end of 2019, he turned to an international court of arbitration in London responsible for deciding on a damage which he estimates at 120 million dollars. His association with Sodiam was however undoubtedly one of his prettiest blows. It started in 2012. In Luanda, nothing was denied to the ambitious son-in-law of the president. The state-owned diamond company is investing alongside De Grisogono, a Swiss jeweler with chronic losses. His wife Isabel loves glamorous punk chic creations and crazy evenings in Cannes. He is content to say that he has established a “ friendly relationship ” with the CEO and Italian-Lebanese founder, Fawaz Gruosi. And all the doors open. It is not only Sodiam that is putting its hand to the portfolio. The BIC bank, partly controlled by Isabel dos Santos, grants the diamond company $ 120 million in loans - today considered disadvantageous by the Angolan state.
The Sodiam case alone illustrates the Dokolo method. To raise public and private funds, the businessman and art collector has created a joint venture (joint subsidiary between two or more companies) with Sodiam. Her name is Victoria Holding Limited and is domiciled in Malta. But he always goes on masked. He uses a company, Exem Holding AG, based in Zug, Switzerland, which is the sole shareholder of Melbourne Investments BV, registered in the Netherlands. And it is the latter that will be used to acquire 50% of Victoria Holding Limited, according to the "Luanda Leaks", the latest survey coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) including Le Monde and Radio France Internationale (RFI ) are partners.
According to the 715,000 documents to which we had access, there is nothing to indicate that the company ultimately used by Mr. Dokolo, Melbourne Investments BV, did not provide more than $ 4 million as initial financing to acquire half of the shares of this company. joint venture with Sodiam. The diamond company, it, pays off the debts of the jeweler without being involved in its management. This is denied by its leaders today who claim 115 million dollars invested by Sindika Dokolo and its various companies. More surprisingly, in a sleight of hand, this money passed through another “consultancy” company of Mr. Dokolo registered in the British Virgin Islands. The latter, Almerk, benefits from a $ 5 million bonus granted by Victoria Holding Limited for having facilitated the purchase of De Grisogono, a nice sum which it uses to finance the purchase of its shares. It is the beauty of the financial arrangements of the dandy of Luanda, the money is lost and is always found.
On arrival, their joint venture holds 87% of the capital of De Grisogono, 45% is in the hands of Sindika Dokolo himself. It is still behind his passion for art that he takes refuge. “ Offshore is not a concern for me, because they are legal tools, explained Mr. Dokolo to Le Monde in March 2017. I don't want to make diamonds like we trade in oil. De Grisogono is an artist brand based on a form of creative genius. I want to make it grow. The founder, Fawaz Gruosi, agrees. " I am a designer and a tailor, but I do not have the skills to be involved in the structure of the company, " he said today to the Swiss group, Tamedia.
Battle over profits from Angola's diamonds
But art does not prevent business for Sindika Dokolo who has thus enabled De Grisogono to benefit, during these last five years, from Angolan diamonds for an estimated value of 2.3 billion dollars, according to the Angolan government . " Which would have generated gains with profit margins of 28% to 45%, or between 638 and 957 million dollars, " said an official Angolan source. " They produce the document that gave them a right to the profits, we even paid these diamonds at a price higher than other players on the market, " retorted the dandy of Luanda to RFI. But it is also a benefit in kind. According to a list of bad payers established by the jeweler in 2015, Sindika Dokolo, her family and her companies had borrowed for more than $ 2 million in jewelry when she told him to supply hundreds of millions of dollars in diamonds to de Grisogono.
To give the impression that her business is up to international standards, Sindika Dokolo likes to consult the largest audit firms on the planet. They have never been reluctant to give him valuable advice and have accepted his demands in terms of discretion and even silence without being shy. This is how PricewaterHouseCooper (PwC) has been responsible for the accountability and audit of Victoria Holding Limited since 2012.
Hide the identity of the real beneficiaries
The instructions from one of Mr. Dokolo's business managers are unambiguous: " We believe that the information that Sodiam belongs ultimately to the Angolan state and Melbourne ultimately belongs to Sindika Dokolo should not no longer be mentioned, ” he wrote in an email dated March 10, 2014. The PwC accountant is not offended. " Noted, we will discuss internally and come back to you, " he just replied.
This information will not be included in the 2012 annual report. The global auditing giant is nevertheless concerned about the situation of De Grisogono and underlines that " the company is over-indebted ". But this is not what seems to worry the business manager of Mr. Dokolo: " Since 2015, companies with Isabel and Sindika as sole beneficiaries are subject to more frequent checks by the Dutch authorities ", puts he warns in an email dated May 20, 2016. Sindika Dokolo, complains of being considered a "Politically Exposed Personality", disdainful of what he describes as contempt on the part of Western banking establishments of the African haves necessarily suspect. “ In London, I cannot open bank accounts. In Dubai, with my friend and partner, we represent a platform that trades for two billion dollars in diamonds per year, ”says Mr. Dokolo without mentioning the name of Konema Mwenenge.
Konema Mwenenge, the empire manager
For her business, Sindika Dokolo trusts only his wife and a few childhood friends. He knows he can count on the discipline and dedication of his old friend Konema Mwenenge. Almost wherever “Sindika” invests, “Konema” takes a management position and willingly lends his name to head the couple's front companies. Their friendship was established on the benches of the prestigious Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague high school in Paris. Like his client, this French citizen of Congolese origin is the son of an aristocrat from the "second Republic", that of Mobutu Sese Seko. “ Sindika is the oligarch show off. Konema, on the other hand, is hardworking and has a very rigorous side , ” says a close friend of the two men.
Between London, Dubai and Paris where he has an address in the 8th district, Konema Mwenenge is the linchpin and the financial technician of the Dokolo empire. He circulates his millions of dollars in the nebula of accounts and offshore companies, as if to muddle the waters. He goes so far as to manage the personal affairs of his friend. Like this Sunday, January 24, 2016 when he informed one of the business managers that “ Sindika is going to close the account he has in a private bank in Luxembourg and would like to transfer these funds (around 3 million) to one of his accounts in Portugal. Except that Sindika is " no longer sure " to have another account than at Banco BIC. Perhaps a mundane Sunday for Sindika Dokolo.
Over a billion bank loans in 2014
Konema Mwenenge is everywhere. Between October 2015 and February 2017, he supplied nearly 3 million dollars in invoices to the Angolan brewery Sodiba of which " Engineer Isabel dos Santos and Doctor Sindika Dokolo " are the " Angolan reference shareholders ", according to a brochure by presentation dated October 2016. For this, he uses six different companies he represents, without raising the slightest question of the law firms or accountants with whom he interacts. It simply states that these are " shareholder loans ". There is no question either when the Franco-Congolese signs in the space of two years for more than 5 million consultancy contracts for a Solvere company based in Mauritius of which he admits to being one of the main shareholders.
It's an entire ecosystem that vampires state-owned companies like their own private companies. According to the "Luanda Leaks", between 2011 and 2016, there were at least 16 companies linked to Sindika Dokolo and Isabel Dos Santos, most based in tax havens, which maintained business relationships with Sodiba. All these transactions are justified by the construction of a new brewery in Bom Jesus, in the Angolan province of Bengo, very close to the capital Luanda.
The “ chief executive ” approved the “ private investment project ” known as Sodiba in the amount of 149 million in April 2014 according to a document from the Angolan agency for the promotion of private investment (ANIP ). Is this still the magic equation: public funds + front companies = millions of dollars in profit? " The state has not paid a dollar ," defends Mr. Dokolo. ANIP does not finance projects. It is a private investment support institution which coordinates the necessary information between the various ministries. We are the ones who raised these funds. It's our investment. "
Even if Angolan justice decided to seize the property of the couple accusing it of profiting from state enterprises under the thumb of Patriarch Jose Eduardo dos Santos, it is not only Angolan public funds that enrich Sindika Dokolo and his wife. According to their Lisbon-based financial management company, Fidequity, in November 2014, more than $ 1 billion in loans had been approved for their companies by banks in Angola and Portugal, mostly linked to the clan. The Robin Hood of African Art alone, as some media call him, is said to have taken out loans on his behalf or as collateral for more than $ 300 million. “ We don't have a group with my wife, but our companies have a combined turnover of two billion dollars. Our loans are always guaranteed. "
In an email dated December 19, 2014, one of the members of Fidequity's financial management produced “an analysis of risk exposure” for 18 Angolan banks from which Sindika Dokolo and his wife borrowed money. Four (BMA, CaixaTotta, BIC, Finibanco) seem to violate "the rules of concentration of risk for a single client or economic group" established by an opinion from the Central Bank of Angola by allocating more than 25% of their own funds to couple of oligarchs. In total, this would be, according to this document, one fifth of the equity of these eighteen Angolan banks which were to be injected into the various companies of Isabel dos Santos and Sindika Dokolo. In any case, this is not what these banks declared in their financial statements that same year.
The companies, accounts and assets of Sindika Dokolo and Isabel dos Santos intertwine to the point where they themselves no longer know who owns what. Business managers get lost in presentations in organizational charts. When Sindika Dokolo is on paper the main shareholder of Exem Holding, business partner of the oil company Sonangol, his wife takes ownership of it before the competition authority of Portugal or on his CVs. Is the husband only a nominee for his wife, who in 2016 admitted that he had interests in twelve Maltese companies, three more than her? His name sprinkles the 715,000 documents contained in the "Luanda Leaks", omnipresent on all financial arrangements in Europe, among the most ambitious and the most controversial of the couple.
Nonchalant, Sindika Dokolo continues to speak of contemporary or classic African art, to spread an ultraliberal pan-African rhetoric. Does he really believe that he is helping to transform his continent and bring out a class of entrepreneurs? Could he have prospered without this access to public funds which he is today accused of having diverted? Faced with the magnitude of the revelations of the "Luanda Leaks", he assumed almost everything. To better defend himself, he shifts the debate to the field of law and politics. " Beyond the truth of the facts, certain things that you accuse me of are not even illegal in Angolan law," retorts Mr. Dokolo. It's as if I accused you of being ugly or in a bad mood ... what good is it to answer me ? For the moment, Isabel dos Santos and Sindika Dokolo are being hunted down by the Angolan justice. The couple are now facing heavy prison terms.
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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