New Global Witness investigation uncovers how Denis Christel Sassou-Nguesso, son of the kleptocratic President of Republic of Congo, appears to have stolen over $50 million of state funds to fund his lavish lifestyle.
6 August 2019, London – Denis Christel Sassou-Nguesso, the son of Republic of Congo’s President, apparently stole over $50 million from the Congolese treasury to fund his luxurious lifestyle. The money was funneled through six European countries, the US and the British Virgin Islands (BVI), Global Witness reveals today in a new investigation.
A key role was played by José Veiga, a controversial businessman who is the target of a Portuguese probe into corruption and money laundering in Congo. Denis Christel Sassou-Nguesso and Veiga set up an apparent money laundering scheme using secrecy jurisdictions, shell companies and a sham public works contract to hide the source of the funds.
The scheme, uncovered by Global Witness, mirrors the pattern and structure of an arrangement used around the same time by Denis Christel Sassou-Nguesso’s sister, Claudia Sassou-Nguesso. As well as being the Congolese President’s daughter, she is the presidential head of communications and, like her brother, a member of Congo’s parliament.
As Global Witness revealed in April 2019, Claudia Sassou Nguesso apparently stole almost $20 million of state funds and used part of it to purchase a luxury apartment in Trump’s flagship hotel and tower in New York.
“Our investigations into the Sassou-Nguesso siblings provide compelling evidence of how they embezzled over $70 million from state coffers,” said Mariana Abreu, Campaigner at Global Witness.
“The Sassou-Nguessos are notorious for enjoying a lavish lifestyle. Given the relatively low salaries for public officials in Congo, it is highly likely that funds for this extravagant spending came, at least in part, from stolen state funds that should instead have been spent improving the lives of Congolese citizens.”
Documents reviewed by Global Witness trace over half a billion dollars leaving Congo’s treasury and multi-million dollar sums totalling over $50 million subsequently passing via companies in the US state of Delaware and the BVI before reaching Cyprus. Cypriot companies secretly owned by Denis Christel Sassou-Nguesso received the money, and he used it to make payments to companies based in Poland, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland.
“As we followed the trail of money we found that it was funnelled through several jurisdictions which pride themselves on having strong anti-money laundering regimes, such as the EU and the US” said Abreu.
This flow of dirty money across continents highlights significant loopholes in the global financial system that are supposed to prevent corruption and money laundering. These enable kleptocratic elites to rob their people and enjoy the spoils of their apparently ill-gotten gains abroad.
This grand-scale corruption has a devastating human impact. “While the Congolese Presidential family seemingly loot millions of dollars of state funds, a third of Congo’s population lives below the poverty line.” said Abreu.
“This scheme bears all the hallmarks of money laundering. All of the jurisdictions involved urgently need to address the ways in which shell companies can move funds around at ease, facing no tough questions on provenance or legitimacy despite multiple corruption warning signs.”
Since 2010, French prosecutors have pursued the Sassou-Nguessos’ assets on the basis that they had been acquired through misappropriation of public funds and money laundering.
Global Witness is calling on European countries, the US and the BVI to fully enact and implement requirements for all companies formed in their territories to disclose publicly who ultimately owns and controls them.
Global Witness sent written questions to Denis Christel Sassou-Nguesso, José Veiga’s lawyer and the Congolese government spokesperson, asking for comment on the details and allegations laid out in the investigation. No substantive responses to the allegations put to them for comment were received from any of these parties within the deadline provided. We also wrote to the relevant companies and the full details of responses received are in the report.
Notes to editor:
- Read the full Global Witness investigation here.
- Read our previous investigation on Claudia Sassou-Nguesso’s purchase of a Trump luxury condo.
- Read our previous investigation on José Veiga’s involvement in oil deals in Congo.
- Denis Christel Sassou-Nguesso is a powerful figure in Congo. As well as being the President’s son and one of the strongest names for the presidential succession, he is an elected member of the Congolese parliament and former deputy director of the state-owned oil company Société nationale des pétroles du Congo (SNPC).
- Congo is ruled by Denis Sassou-Nguesso, fourth in the list of longest serving non-royal leaders worldwide. Corruption, usually around oil licences but also in infrastructure projects and other procurement deals, has fuelled lavish spending sprees by President Sassou-Nguesso’s family.
- The French investigation into the Sassou-Nguessos is known as the Affaire des Biens Mal Acquis (Ill-Gotten Gains) and is ongoing.
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