Luxury-loving son of Republic of Congo Brazzaville President Denis Sassou-Nguesso [one of the longest-serving authoritarian rulers in the world] seemingly stole over $50 million from the Congolese treasury for personal gains, a new investigations by Global Witness’s reveals.
Six different European countries, the US and the British Virgin Islands were all involved in an apparent money laundering scheme.
Denis Christel Sassou-Nguesso, named closely after his father and also known as Kiki, is a powerful figure in Republic of Congo, an oil-rich Central African country.
As well as being the President’s son, he is an elected member of the Congolese parliament and former deputy director of the state-owned oil company Société nationale des pétroles du Congo (SNPC).
His scheme, mirrors the pattern and structure of an arrangement used around the same time by his sister, Claudia Sassou-Nguesso. As well as being the Congolese President’s daughter, she is also a member of parliament and the presidential head of communications.
Global Witness revealed in April 2019, Claudia Sassou-Nguesso received almost $20 million of apparently stolen state funds and used the dirty money to purchase a luxury apartment in the Trump Hotel & Tower in New York.
The Sassou-Nguessos are known to live lavish lifestyles, which are not compatible with public officials’ relatively modest salaries in Congo.
Congo has recently become sub-Saharan Africa’s third biggest oil producer, earning huge revenues from the oil sector. However, due to corruption and mismanagement, the country consistently performs badly in development indices such as the Human Development Index and the Corruption Perceptions Index.
While state funds are seemingly looted by the Presidential family, a third of Congo’s population lives below the poverty line and citizens go months without wages, pensions and medicine.
Global Witness trawled through various bank statements, corporate documents and secret contracts, and spoke with sources in many different countries. What all of this reveals is a trail of dirty money from the Congolese treasury to the heart of Europe, the United States and the BVI.
The Portuguese fixer
At the heart of the Sassou-Nguesso’s apparent money laundering scheme is José Veiga, a notorious Portuguese businessman known to be a personal business fixer for the Congolese Presidential family. He is under investigation in Portugal for his alleged involvement in corruption and money laundering in Congo.
Veiga is , responsible for securing public works contracts with the Congolese government. According to the French newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné, Asperbras charged inflated fees for some contracts.
In response to written questions from Global Witness, Asperbras completely refuted any claim of over-priced contracts and irregularities in the Congolese public procurement process.
One of the deals closed by Asperbras with the Congolese government was to perform a geological survey. The Brazilian company subcontracted a Cypriot company called Gabox Limited to carry out part of the work. Gabox had no obvious experience, financial capital or even employees, and had been set up just two days before signing the deal with Asperbras.
The terms of the contract state that Gabox would receive 25 percent of the amount paid by the Congolese government to Asperbras. According to Swiss NGO Public Eye, the project was valued at $200 million, meaning Gabox would receive $50 million.
In Asperbras’s response to Global Witness, the company claimed that Gabox had been hired exclusively to obtain new deals for Asperbras. However, the terms of the contract between Gabox and Asperbras, reviewed by Global Witness, indicate that Gabox was also theoretically hired to carry out a geological mapping survey in Congo.
In this period, Gabox was part of a structure consisting of three different Cypriot companies. Veiga seemed to be the owner of this network – at least according to publicly available corporate documents.
But this was not in fact the case. Veiga was just a frontman, whose presence disguised the true ownership of the Cypriot companies.
Congolese President’s son, the hidden recipient of tens of millions of dollars
The real owner of the Cypriot network of companies which received the $50 million from the Congolese treasury was Denis Christel Sassou-Nguesso, according to documents seen by Global Witness.
When Gabox was incorporated and included in the web of Cypriot companies under Veiga’s name, the Portuguese businessman had already secretly transferred the ownership of the network to the President’s son.
This transfer of ownership was carried out using a set of contracts that Whatever the company documents in Cyprus might say, these Brazzaville contracts meant that in reality, when Gabox was incorporated, it automatically belonged to Denis Christel Sassou-Nguesso.
The first deposit ever received by Gabox, in January 2014, amounted to $44.5 million and came from an Asperbras subsidiary.
A month later, Gabox received a second bank transfer of $1.6 million from another Cypriot company called Sebrit Limited. As Global Witness previously revealed, Sebrit was a front company of Claudia Sassou-Nguesso, the sister of Denis Christel Sassou-Nguesso. Like Gabox, it apparently received stolen funds from the Congolese treasury.
Towards the end of the same year, Gabox’s parent company received $4.4 million, again from the Asperbras subsidiary.
In total, during 2014, companies owned by Denis Christel Sassou-Nguesso received around $50.5 million – funds that seem to have been stolen from the Congolese treasury.
Gabox subsequently made payments to companies based in Poland, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland, according to a Portuguese police report reviewed by Global Witness. The ultimate purpose of these payments is unclear.
What is clear, however, is that the Sassou-Nguesso family has spent vast sums over the past several years on luxury goods and properties. Given the relatively low salaries for public officials in Congo, it is highly likely that the money for this lavish spending came, at least in part, from looted state funds.
In response to written questions sent by Global Witness, Asperbras said it did not know anything about deals closed by Veiga or his companies, let alone any financial transactions carried out by Veiga on behalf of any “Politically Exposed Person” (PEP) in Congo.
Asperbras declined to comment in further detail in light of the ongoing Portuguese investigation into Veiga and the deals he has been involved with in Congo. The company stressed that none of its employees have been charged in relation to that investigation so far.
The luxurious lifestyle of the Congolese Presidential family
In power for much of the past four decades, the Sassou-Nguesso family owns properties worth millions of dollars around the world. Members of the family have been accused of using their positions of power to enrich themselves.
Global Witness recently revealed how Claudia Sassou-Nguesso used $7 million from the public funds she seemingly stole to purchase a luxury apartment in Trump International Hotel & Tower in New York.
It was previously uncovered how Denis Christel Sassou-Nguesso appeared to have spent $35,000 derived from sales of state oil on designer shopping sprees in Paris, Marbella and Dubai.
Other stories of extravagance abound: Congo’s President reportedly spent over a million dollars on shirts and suits from luxury Parisian boutiques, while France’s Libération newspaper quoted a former aide to the presidential staff saying that Denis Christel Sassou-Nguesso “changes shirts three or four times a day and boasts that he never washes them and uses them as Kleenexes”.
Since 2010, following a criminal complaint filed by French NGOs, French authorities have been investigating the Congolese Presidential family’s assets on the basis that they had been acquired through misappropriation of public funds and money laundering. The case is known as the Affaire des Biens Mal Acquis (Ill-Gotten Gains) and is ongoing.
As part of the probe, French investigators found that the Congolese Presidential family had spent $67.6 million on luxury goods and real estate assets in France. This is likely just the tip of the iceberg.
Global Witness sent written questions to Denis Christel Sassou-Nguesso, José Veiga’s lawyer and the Congolese government spokesperson, asking for comment on the details and allegations laid out in this article. No substantive responses to the allegations put to them for comment were received from any of these parties within the deadline provided.