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Court labels deal involving Malta companies in Dos Santos empire ‘fraudulent’

Isabel dos Santos. Photo: Nuno Coimbra

A court in Angola has labelled a deal between a diamond company and Angolese billionaire Isabel dos Santos’ husband Sindika Dokolo as “fraudulent”, according to a newly released decision reported by the International Consortium for Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

The deal involves Victoria Limited and Victoria Holding Limited – two of the 14 companies tied to the couple’s business empire which are incorporated in Malta, as revealed by the ICIJ’s investigation into the pair – Africa’s wealthiest woman and her husband – called ‘The Luanda Leaks’.

In January, The Times of Malta had reported that Victoria Limited and Victoria Holding Limited were used to “pump millions” into acquiring 75% of luxury Swiss jewellery company de Grisogono, which could be traced to a series of transactions in 2012 that quietly routed millions through shell companies in Malta and the British Virgin Islands.

The 44-page ruling by the Provincial Court of Luanda, released to the public in July, prevents Banco BIC, partly owned by dos Santos, from recouping millions of dollars in loan and interest payments from Sodiam, the Angola State-owned diamond firm.

The court expressed its belief that “paying Banco BIC will bankrupt Sodiam”, with dos Santos being “the largest beneficiary” of Banco BIC.

Sodiam had borrowed $98 million from the company Banco BIC at a 9% interest rate to fuel investment into the struggling Swiss luxury jeweller de Grisogono, according to the Angolan government.

The court said the “fraudulent” diamond deal was an “opportunity” for dos Santos and her husband to control de Grisigono, which filed for bankruptcy protection soon after the publicity. Sodiam claims that it is now facing total loss, the ICIJ said.

“We are, therefore, in fact, facing yet another situation of illicit enrichment,” the court said.

Dos Santos is the billionaire daughter of Angola’s former dictatorial president José Eduardo dos Santos. During her father’s tenure until 2017, she was handed a number of deals in oil, diamonds, beer production, and telecommunications, among other sectors.

She is under criminal investigation for corruption in Angola and her assets have been frozen.Dos Santos and Dokolo have adamantly denied wrongdoing.

The recent court ruling is the latest development in Angola’s attempt to recover money and assets from dos Santos’ vast business empire. The judge said the latest decision depends on the final outcome of a broader case through which the Angolan government has frozen $1.1 billion of dos Santos and Dokolo’s assets, according to the ICIJ.

In February, The Shift reported that the couple held a stake as shareholders in 14 companies that were set up in Malta, making it a “popular” destination for the couple, as revealed through The Luanda Leaks.

The investigation leaked around 700,000 financial and business records showing how dos Santos built her business empire over two decades on “insider deals” that left oil and diamond-rich Angola “one of the poorest countries on Earth”.

The documents were leaked following work by the Protect Whistleblowers in Africa platform and the ICIJ.

According to the investigation, Malta had the third-highest number of companies linked to the couple’s business empire, following Angola (81 companies) and Portugal (17 companies).

Malta had more financial companies involved when compared to Portugal (13 as opposed to 11), and is the only country of the three that is listed as a “secrecy jurisdiction”.

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