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Swiss jeweller allegedly received millions from Angolan state coffers

An investigation based on leaked documents suggests that Isabel dos Santos, Africa’s richest woman and a daughter of Angola’s former president, allegedly siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars of Angolan public funds into offshore accounts. Some of these funds ended up in Switzerland, the investigation suggests. 

The “Luanda Leaks” reports, a trove of more than 700,000 documents obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, and shared with 36 media partners, allege that an army of Western financial firms, lawyers, accountants, government officials and management companies helped dos Santos and her husband, Sindika Dokolo, hide assets from tax authorities and park them abroad. In recent interviews, they have denied wrongdoing and said that the current Angolan government was on a “witch hunt” against the dos Santos family.

The Swiss Tribune de Genève and Tages-Anzeiger newspapers, which had access to the documents, claimed on Monday that Geneva jeweller De Grisogno received over $140 million (CHF136 million) of Angolan state funds. According to the Tribune de Genève, the struggling jeweller was rescued by Dokolo and the Angolan state diamond firm Sodiam in 2012 by creating a structure in Malta to buy a stake in the luxury Geneva brand for CHF25.7 million. Millions of dollars of Angolan state funds were then allegedly used to meet the firm’s debts and expenditure, the Swiss papers claim.

Dos Santos told the BBC in an interview that the allegations against her were false. In their reply to the Swiss papers claims, dos Santos and Dokolo defended the legality and economic viability of their actions regarding De Grisogono. They claim that their firms’ computers were hacked and that information was leaked to the press to harm them.

Dokolo, meanwhile, accused Sodiam of exaggerating his financial losses at De Grisogono and of “deliberately destroying” the value of the Swiss jeweller by divulging confidential information about him. He argued that the investment in the private company was in fact not lost, as De Grisogono is still operational.

Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of former Angolan president José Eduardo dos Santos, was named Africa’s richest woman by Forbes with a fortune estimated at over $2 billion. She claims she is a self-made woman who has not benefited from state funds and her family ties. Her critics say she embodies the continent’s corruption blight.

On December 31, Angola seized the couple’s domestic assets, alleging she and her husband steered payments of more than $1 billion from state oil company Sonangol and official diamond trading group Sodiam to companies where they held stakes. She denies those allegations as a “witch hunt” aimed at weakening her father’s influence and distracting from failures under new President Lourenço.

Since Lourenço succeeded her father in 2017, after his nearly four-decade rule, Lourenço curbed the influence of his predecessor’s children in state enterprises. He dismissed Isabel dos Santos from her job chairing oil firm Sonangol and dismissed her brother from his role in the sovereign wealth fund.

ICIJ/Tribune de Genève/BBC/sb