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de Grisogono caught up in scandal over shareholder’s financing

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Luxury jewellery brand de Grisogono faces becoming tangled in a complex financial investigation, which involves Africa’s richest woman stealing money from a country suffering an economic crisis.

According to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which shared more than 700,000 supporting documents it obtained with The New York Times, Isabel dos Santos – Africa’s richest woman and the daughter of Angola’s former president, José Eduardo dos Santos – and her husband, Sindika Dokolo, funded deGrisogono and roughly 400 other companies through a series shell companies based in Luxembourg, Malta, and the Netherlands. These companies fleeced the people of poverty-stricken Angola of more than a billion dollars over several years.

Santos and Dokolo have had a stake in Swiss jewellery brand, de Grisogono, since 2012, but now this share, and the money behind it, is part of an in-depth investigation in Angola, where prosecutors have said they are looking at allegations that the couple enriched themselves at the expense of the country.

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According to the documents obtained by the New York Times, which span from 1980 to 2018 but largely cover the last ten years, dos Santos, who has an estimated worth of over $2 billion and has always claimed to be ‘self-made’, has benefited from lucrative deals in several of Angola’s key industries during her father’s presidency, and redirected state funds to a web of shell companies worldwide.

Within this scheme, the documents allege that dos Santos was implicated in corruption in Angola’s diamond industry. In 1999, with the help of the head of state, she acquired a 24.5% share in the Angola Selling Corp, with an exclusive license to market Angolan diamonds, to a company controlled by dos Santos and her mother. In 2012, Dokolo signed a deal with Angola’s diamond-trading agency to buy a stake in de Grisogono. The documents allege that this deal was funded by the state company.

Documents seen by the Guardian suggest the Angolan state-backed diamond company Sodiam was instrumental in buying and financing De Grisogono, exposing itself to huge loans to pay for the purchase of the company and its ongoing support.

But despite its financial investment, Sodiam took no role in deciding how de Grisogono was run. Instead, Dokolo and his team appear to have managed the loss-making business, involving Dos Santos in key decisions such as the establishment and design of new premises in London.

Concern about this arrangement was expressed in an announcement by the country’s new government last month, accusing the married couple of making, and hiding, money at the state’s expense. The decree included a claim that Sodiam is owed $147m for loans used to prop up De Grisogono, money it borrowed from a bank linked to Dos Santos.

An Angolan court froze dos Santos’ and Dokolo’s assets in late December as part of a corruption investigation.

While the investigation doesn’t directly involve de Grisogono, the jewellery company’s finances will be closely studied as part of the case.

The attorney general claims the couple are responsible for more than $1 billion in lost state funds.

While many outlets have tried to get hold of de Grisogono for comment, the marketing director has simply said “the company has no comments to make at this moment”.

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The author Stacey Hailes

Editor, Professional Jeweller

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