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Switzerland freezes $900 Million linked to Angolan businessman in money laundering probe

By Elizabeth Hearst

Swiss authorities have frozen $900 Million in accounts linked to Carlos Manuel de São Vicente, a high-profile Angolan businessman in the nation’s oil industry, as part of a money laundering investigation. 

Swiss prosecutors froze $1.25 Billion in accounts linked to de São Vicente, his family and related companies last year, and represents one of the largest personal asset freezes in Swiss history. De São Vicente’s associated accounts were seized after Swiss banks flagged transactions to them as suspicious, as reported by Reuters

Mr de São Vicente, a prominent figure in the country’s oil industry, was head of AAA Seguros, a company that was granted a monopoly over insurance of the nation’s oil industry for over fifteen years. 

Court documents describe that the “public prosecutor opened on December 4th 2018, a criminal procedure for money laundering” against Carlos Manuel de São Vicente and froze assets belonging to de São Vicente. It’s alleged that de São Vicente appealed against the freeze on his assets and described the transactions as “legitimate reimbursement” between 2012 to 2019. 

In a statement to Reuters, his legal representative, Clara Poglia from Schellenberg Wittmer Ltd said: “My client strongly refutes the charges against himself,” and added: “He confirms that he has always acted according to the law as it will be demonstrated in the frame of the criminal proceedings”. 

Mr de São Vicente’s appeal to have two accounts seized unblocked on July 9th was rejected by a Swiss court. Mr de São Vicente is eligible to launch a fresh appeal in relation to the frozen funds until a deadline later this month, but no appeal has yet been received by Swiss authorities. 

Mr de São Vicente’s wife, Irene Neto, is a former deputy minister from Angola’s ruling party and is the daughter of Angola’s former president. She was named alongside other family members whose bank accounts were originally frozen and then released by Swiss prosecutors. 

Following the 16-year monopoly de São Vicente’s company AAA Seguros held over insurance of the country’s state-run oil industry, a presidential decree in 2016 stripped it’s hold over the industry. The decree suggested there was “allegedly non-transparent management”, before it revoked the company’s authorization to operate in the country earlier this year. The company was then dissolved. 

Although the African nation experienced tremendous growth in GDP during the first ten years of the 21st century, it’s growth is tied to oil production as the second largest oil producer in Sub-Saharan africa. The nation has been plunged into corruption with previous corruption investigations launched into the daughter of an ex-president Isabel Dos Santos, after it was alleged she improperly profited from her chairmanship of Sonangol.

Similarly her brother Jose Filomeno de dos Santos, was found guilty by an Angolan court of an illegal money transfer to a London bank. He is the former head of Angola’s sovereign wealth fund and both he and the Dos Santos family denied all charges. 

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