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On Monday, January 27, Portuguese hacker Rui Pinto stepped forward to claim responsibility for revealing millions of files that found Africa’s richest woman, Isabel dos Santos, to have embezzled billions of US dollars.
Pinto’s lawyers have said that the 31-year-old gave a hard drive with the files to the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF) in 2018.
Pinto is currently behind bars in Lisbon where he is awaiting trial on charges of extortion after he hacked documents revealing the dealings of European soccer clubs.
Dos Santos financial fraud
A Forbes magazine article reported that dos Santos had exploited her status as Angola’s first daughter in an effort to amass at least three billion US dollars. Her father, José Eduardo dos Santos, was the president of Angola for nearly four decades, from 1979 to 2017.
“As best as we can trace, every major Angolan investment held by Dos Santos stems either from taking a chunk of a company that wants to do business in the country or from a stroke of the president’s pen that cut her into the action,” another article read.
Isabel dos Santos has made many investments in African and Portuguese companies over the years, but Luanda Leaks documents have shown specific evidence of fraudulent activities in Sonangol and Unitel.
Dos Santos’ dealings with Sonangol
An investigation into Angola’s state gas production company, Sonangol, has revealed that dos Santos, its former owner, transferred funds on November 16, 2017, wiring $38 million US dollars to a bank account in Dubai on the same day as her dismissal as the company’s chairwoman.
The sum was transferred to Matter Business Solutions, a Dubai-based investment firm, in a scheme to funnel money out of Angola. Two other fund transfers, of $15 million and $4 million US dollars, were wired separately on the same day.
In one day, Sonangol went from having $57 million to just $309 US dollars.
Isabel dos Santos was appointed as Sonangol’s chief executive in 2016 by her father, José Eduardo dos Santos, Angola’s then-president. Isabel dos Santos served as chief executive for only one year before she was dismissed following her father’s departure from office in 2017.
José Eduardo dos Santos was the second-longest serving president in Africa, ruling Angola from 1979 to 2017.
Dos Santos’ dealings with Unitel
Isabel dos Santos is accused of embezzling money from the Angolan mobile phone company Unitel, established on March 8, 2001, as a joint-stock company.
Luanda Leaks documents show Isabel dos Santos’ signatures on loan documents for Unitel, as both the borrower and the lender. Unitel couldn’t present proof that its board had approved the loans.
Isabel dos Santos takes legal action against Luanda Leaks
Dos Santos has repeatedly denied allegations of fraud and says she will take legal action.
Dos Santos is planning to sue the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and its media partners for planning what she says is a “concerted and intense campaign” against her.
“The allegations which have been made against me over the last few days are extremely misleading and untrue. This is a very concentrated, orchestrated and well-coordinated political attack. I have engaged lawyers to take action against inaccurate defamatory reports and allegations,” dos Santos tweeted on January 25.
Luanda Leaks is the name for the investigation that resulted in the release of a series of documents. This investigation was carried out by journalists for eight months in Angola. Luanda Leaks has since published information about the fortune of Isabel dos Santos and her husband, Sindika Dokolo.
Journalists who worked on the investigation spoke to dozens of people, including Isabel dos Santos’ former employees, and went through more than 700 documents. These documents include confidential audits, real estate records and invoices from Sonongol.
Among the documents in the Luanda Leaks release is a 16-page guide on Malta’s tax haven status and its tax advantages, written by dos Santos’ lawyers at PLMJ.
Dos Santos’ lawyers spoke about how clients can set up a business and collect dividends, interest and royalties without paying any withholding taxes when incorporating a company in Malta. The tax laws governing Malta, an archipelago in the Mediterranean, allow international companies to pay corporate tax of as little as 5%.
The Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa
The Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa, also known as the PPLAAF, aims to protect whistleblowers in Africa from retaliation. The organization believes that protecting whistleblowers should be the duty of every government and society.
“Their courage is crucial in opening the eyes of the world to the huge, complex, underground threats to the public interest,” said William Bourdon, the PPLAAF co-founder and veteran human rights lawyer.
The PPLAAF received the leaked documents from Pinto in 2018.
Who is whistleblower, Rui Pinto?
For three years while living in Hungary, Pinto worked under the codename “John”. In this time he sent 70 million documents from top football clubs to the German magazine Der Spiegel, known now as the “Football Leaks.”
Pinto was tracked down by Hungarian authorities and extradited to Portugal for charges of attempted extortion and data misuse. “His data has led to some spectacular revelations and resulted in numerous investigations throughout Europe,” reported Der Spiegel.
Pinto’s data dump is one of the largest data leaks to date.