Press release | Jan. 20, 2020

Luanda Leaks expose role of financial secrecy and western professionals in moving tainted money

20 January 2020, London New revelations about how Isobel dos Santos, daughter of the former Angolan President, amassed her fortune allegedly at the expense of the Angolan state, once again reveal a global system of financial secrecy complicit in her schemes, according to the anti-corruption NGO Global Witness.

“The Luanda Leaks” reveal new evidence of a network of 400 companies, many of which are based in offshore tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands, which were used by Isobel dos Santos to become Africa’s richest woman, while millions of Angolans live in extreme poverty. The leaks also reveal new details about the lawyers, accountants and other “professional enablers” in Western states that helped dos Santos with these transactions, raising concerns that several of these institutions did not carry out adequate due diligence on the source of dos Santos’s wealth.

As the daughter of Angola’s former President, dos Santos qualifies as a ‘Politically Exposed Person’ (PEP) meaning that in the EU, banks, accountancy firms and lawyers are all required to conduct a risk assessment of the source of her wealth to see if it raises red flags for corruption.

Money routed through dos Santos’s network was apparently used to purchase three properties in London, worth an estimated £24 million, as well as properties elsewhere, high-end artwork and luxury goods such as a superyacht.

For the full ICIJ evidence and reaction from Isobel dos Santos visit here

Mark Hays, Campaign Leader at Global Witness, said:

“Isobel dos Santos was able to become Africa’s richest woman by exploiting her political connections to profit from Angola’s natural resource wealth, while millions of Angolans live in extreme poverty. Dos Santos did this with the help and support of professional bankers, lawyers, accountants and estate agents in the west, who at best turned a blind eye and at worst are complicit in her schemes.”

“The Luanda Leaks are the latest in a long line of scandals to gather worldwide attention, but politicians and authorities still have not acted to properly prevent these abuses of the global financial system. In too many places, such as the British Overseas Territories, it is still too easy to set up anonymous companies, pump them with suspicious wealth and then use those companies to buy expensive properties and other luxury items.”

The UK Government recently announced it would finally reveal the real owners of overseas companies buying UK properties through a public register, while in 2018 the UK parliament passed legislation requiring companies set up in the British Overseas Territories to also reveal their real owners.

Mark Hays said:

“This case shows how important it is that the UK doesn’t drag its heels over its commitments to end anonymous company ownership in its Overseas Territories and for property at home. At the same time, we must get tougher on professionals who fail to flag up suspicious wealth - turning a blind eye is being complicit.”

“As the UK hosts its African Investment Summit today in London, looking for new post-Brexit investment, the Government should ensure it uses this opportunity to address illicit financial flows. Britain leaving the EU must not become a reason to row back on commitments to tackle dirty money.”



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