Home News Portuguese banker named in Isabel dos Santos corruption investigation found dead

Portuguese banker named in Isabel dos Santos corruption investigation found dead

Published on 23/01/2020

A Portuguese banker named by Angolan prosecutors as a suspect in a multimillion-dollar embezzlement probe involving Isabel dos Santos, Africa’s richest woman, has been found dead in Lisbon.

The body of Nuno Ribeiro da Cunha was found in the garage of his home on Wednesday night. Portuguese police told local media that “everything pointed to suicide”. Ribeiro da Cunha was one of four Portuguese citizens named on Wednesday alongside Ms dos Santos as formal suspects in an Angolan investigation into alleged misappropriation of funds from Sonangol, the state oil company she chaired from 2016 to 2017.

Scrutiny of the source of Ms dos Santos’s $2bn fortune has intensified this week after the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists accused the daughter of a former president of using her position to siphon hundreds of millions of dollars from Angola through consulting fees to Sonangol and other schemes.

The allegations stem from 715,000 leaked emails, charts, contracts, audits and accounts that were initially obtained by the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa, an anti-corruption charity, and shared with the ICIJ. Ms dos Santos, Africa’s richest woman, was appointed chairwoman of Sonangol under her father, José Eduardo dos Santos, who ruled Angola for 38 years and stepped down in 2017.

President Joao Lourenco was handpicked by Mr dos Santos to succeed him but soon after taking office set about removing his predecessor and other members of the former leader’s family from state posts. Earlier this month, Mr Lourenco’s government froze Ms dos Santos’ assets after prosecutors said she and her husband, Congolese art collector Sindika Dokolo, had failed to return more than $1bn in state funds.

Now the legal net around her is tightening. Helder Pitta Gros, Angola’s attorney-general, said on Wednesday he had indicted Ms dos Santos on charges of money laundering as the probe into her management of Sonangol entered a “decisive phase”.

Mr Pitta Gros added that the government could issue an international arrest warrant for Ms dos Santos if she did not voluntarily submit for questioning. He was due to meet Lucília Gago, his Portuguese counterpart, in Lisbon on Thursday to discuss the investigation.

Ms dos Santos, who has repeatedly denied all allegations of wrongdoing, dismissed the indictment as a “political attack”. “The allegations which have been made against me over the last few days are extremely misleading and untrue,” Ms dos Santos said in a statement on Thursday. “This is a very concentrated, orchestrated and well-co-ordinated political attack, ahead of elections in Angola next year. Sadly, the rule of law has been undermined in Angola where the courts are subject to political pressure.”

Ribeiro da Cunha, the banker found dead on Wednesday, was director of private banking and manager of Sonangol’s account at Eurobic, a private Portuguese bank in which Ms dos Santos is the largest single shareholder with a 42.5 per cent stake.

Media had reported previously that Ribeiro da Cunha had been found at his holiday home in southern Portugal on 7 January with wounds to his wrists and abdomen. He had told police then that he was depressed and had tried to commit suicide, the reports said.

Eurobic’s handling of offshore payments for Ms dos Santos was first investigated by Portuguese regulators in 2015, according to the ICIJ. On Wednesday, four days after the leaked documents were published, the bank said Ms dos Santos was selling her stake. The sale “has already started, which given the existence of interested parties, should assure its completion very soon”, Eurobic said in a statement.