Tracking a Princess: Using Public Records to Trace the Assets of Africa’s Richest Woman

02/17/22 3 minute read

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Grand corruption, or corruption involving senior government officials and large sums of money, is a global problem. Such grand corruption frequently involves state-owned enterprises (SOEs), which are particularly vulnerable to significant corruption risks given “their proximity to the government, their prevalence in corruption-prone sectors, and weak corporate governance practices,” according to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

A key typology often leveraged in grand corruption schemes involving SOEs is the use of shell companies and labyrinthine corporate structures spanning the globe. Embezzled public funds and bribes paid to politically exposed persons are often layered through offshore bank accounts and sometimes invested in real estate, high-value art, and other luxury assets.

In this report, we explore the case of Isabel dos Santos, an Azerbaijan-born, Russo-Angolan billionaire, who has been accused of large-scale embezzlement and money laundering. In doing so, we illustrate how open, connected data can allow investigators looking into complex embezzlement and money laundering schemes to see connections across borders and thus surface relationships that may go unnoticed.

In the report, we examine four major business ventures tied to Ms. dos Santos. The four ventures are:

  • The Sodiam-de Grisogono partnership
  • The Sonangol-Galp share sale
  • The Sonangol restructuring
  • The Marginal da Corimba development project

As these cases demonstrate, using public data to trace a large and convoluted commercial network such as that of Ms. dos Santos can bolster domestic or international criminal investigations and help companies manage financial risk.

About Sayari:

Sayari provides data intelligence platforms to power the fight against financial crime, increase corporate transparency in high-risk places, and support critical national security mission sets. The top global financial institutions, Fortune 100 corporations, financial crime regulators, and enforcement agencies in 35 countries trust Sayari every day.

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