Security & Fraud

Isabel dos Santos Facing Embezzlement; Implicated Banker Found Dead

Isabel dos Santos Facing Embezzlement

Africa’s richest woman, Isabel dos Santos, is facing money laundering and mismanagement charges, while a banker implicated in the case — Nuno Ribeiro da Cunha, 45 — was found dead in his Lisbon apartment, according to multiple media reports on Thursday (Jan. 23).

Leaked documents allege that the daughter of the former Angola president plundered state revenues to build her estimated $2.1 billion fortune. She was charged for crimes allegedly committed when she ran the state oil company Sonangol.

As the director of private banking at Portuguese lender Eurobic, da Cunha managed the Sonangol account. He was implemented in the case against dos Santos before being found dead in his home of an apparent suicide, a police source said.

News reports said dos Santos had a 42.5 percent stake in Eurobic, which is the European arm of an Angolan bank, but reports indicate that she is in the process of selling it.

Angola Attorney General Hélder Pitta Grós said late Wednesday (Jan. 22) that dos Santos would be charged with “money laundering, influence peddling, harmful management” and “forgery of documents, among other economic crimes” committed when she ran Sonangol.

“I can say that from the investigation we conducted, we will now move to criminal charges,” Pitta Grós said on the Angolan state-run television channel TPA.

The investigation was launched in 2018. Formal charges are expected to be filed soon, noted Álvaro João, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office. “These are not yet formal charges, as investigations continue and if needed, we will then charge her and the others,” he told The New York Times.

He added that dos Santos will be charged along with four Portuguese nationals who were her business associates. “We have enough reasons to prosecute these people,” João said. “At this moment, our concern is that they be notified of the charges brought against them, and that they present themselves voluntarily to the court in order for them to be able to defend themselves in the best possible way, voluntarily. If we are not able to achieve this, then we will resort to existing legal instruments to bring them to court.”

The recently leaked documents spell out how dos Santos exploited her country’s resources, buying up stakes in Angola’s diamond industry, financial institutions, a cement manufacturer and a mobile phone company. Some of the purchase orders were reportedly signed by her father, José Eduardo dos Santos.

She denied any wrongdoing in an interview with the BBC, calling the inquiry into her finances “political persecution.” Pitta Grós said during a news conference that dos Santos fled the country the same day she was called for questioning.

Prosecutors are seeking to recover $1 billion (£760 million) that dos Santos and her associates are alleged to owe the state.

Eurobic said on Monday (Jan. 20) that it was ending its “commercial relationship” with dos Santos. It is planning an audit to investigate the millions of dollars that were transferred.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime indicates that money laundering is estimated to be a $2 trillion problem that is global in scope. Just 1 percent of proceeds are intercepted from financial crimes.

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