How U.S. Firms Helped Africa’s Richest Woman Exploit Her Country’s Wealth

How U.S. Firms Helped Africa’s Richest Woman Exploit Her Country’s Wealth

The Sonangol account was with the Portuguese arm of Banco BIC, where she was the biggest shareholder. Shunned by global banks, the couple increasingly relied on the Angolan lender, which has a big office in Lisbon steps from her apartment. In 2015, Portuguese regulators said the bank had failed to monitor money flowing from Angola to European companies linked to her and her associates, concluding that the lender lacked internal controls.

“Paying huge and dubious consulting fees to anonymous companies in secrecy jurisdictions is a standard trick that should sound all alarm bells,” said Christoph Trautvetter, a forensic accountant based in Berlin who worked as an investigator for KPMG, a global business advisory firm.

Days before the invoices were issued, the Sonangol executive who would have approved them was fired, replaced by a relative of Ms. dos Santos, the documents show. The managing director of the Dubai company, Matter Business Solutions DMCC, was her frequent associate Mr. da Silva.

Months later, Carlos Saturnino, Ms. dos Santos’s successor as Sonangol’s head, publicly accused her of mismanagement, saying her tenure was marked by conflicts of interest, tax avoidance and excessive reliance on consultants. He also said she had approved $135 million in consulting fees, with most of that going to the Dubai shell company.

“We have there some situations of money laundering, some of them of doing business with herself,” Hélder Pitta Grós, Angola’s attorney general, said in an interview with I.C.I.J. partners.

Ms. dos Santos, speaking with the BBC, said the Dubai company supervised work for Sonangol by Boston Consulting, McKinsey, PwC and several other Western firms. When asked about the invoices, she said she was unfamiliar with them but insisted the expenses were legitimate, charged at “the standard rate” under a contract approved by Sonangol’s board.

“This work was extraordinarily important,” she added, saying that Sonangol cut its costs by 40 percent.

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