People familiar with case say money was transferred through HSBC, Standard Chartered accounts before being frozen
The former Angolan president’s son and a former central banker are suspected of using accounts at HSBC Holdings PLC and Standard Chartered PLC in an attempt to defraud the country’s central bank by transferring $500 million through these U.K.-based lenders, people familiar with the matter said.
The prosecutor’s office in Angola said the money was transferred from Angola’s central bank, allegedly to guarantee a $30 billion financing deal, according to a statement posted on the government website Wednesday.
According to one of the people familiar with the matter, a document showed the $500 million went to a Credit Suisse account, but that document was forged. Instead, the money turned up at an account at HSBC, where it was flagged to authorities and frozen, said the people familiar with the matter.
Earlier this week, Angolan prosecutors named as suspects in the allegedly illegal transfer from the central bank, José Filomeno dos Santos, the son of former President José Eduardo dos Santos, and four others, including the former Angolan central bank governor, Valter Filipe da Silva, according to the government statement.
Mr. da Silva couldn’t be reached for comment, but has previously denied wrongdoing. Representatives of Angola’s central bank couldn’t be reached for comment. José Filomeno dos Santos couldn’t be reached for comment.
In a statement read during an Angola news-channel broadcast on Tuesday, José Filomeno dos Santos, who until January ran the country’s sovereign-wealth fund, said he voluntarily reached out to the prosecutor’s office in late February “to collaborate in finding the truth.” He confirmed that he has been named on March 6 as a suspect in the case. “Mr. dos Santos remains available to continue to cooperate with authorities to completely and satisfactory resolve this process,” said the statement that the news presenter read.
The documents that indicated the $500 million went to a Credit Suisse account are now being investigated by the Angolan central bank, according to one of the people familiar with the matter.
In a statement, Credit Suisse said it “has no record of the alleged fraud, which involved falsified documentation, and has not received any funds in relation to it.” The company also said it “has provided available information to relevant law enforcement agencies.”
Standard Chartered said on Wednesday that the funds used in the alleged attempted fraud came from the Angolan central bank’s Standard Chartered account. It said it is working closely with the central bank and U.K. law enforcement.
The U.K.’s National Crime Agency said this week it is investigating the “potential $500 million fraud” and that it froze the entire sum in December. It said it is preparing to return the money to Angola, while it continues its investigation in cooperation with authorities there.
Both HSBC and Standard Chartered have previously been sanctioned by authorities in the U.S. and elsewhere over lax money-laundering controls, but in recent years have strengthened their ability to detect such crimes, a necessity to avoid the possibility of losing a banking license. The U.K. also has strengthened its financial crime-fighting powers and was able to freeze the Angolan money because of new laws that came in last year.
The prosecutor’s naming of José Filomeno dos Santos as a suspect comes at a time when Angola’s new president, João Lourenço is escalating a purge of family members and allies of his predecessor from government posts.
José Filomeno dos Santos was named as chairman of Angola’s sovereign-wealth fund by his father in 2013 to oversee the investment of $5 billion on behalf of the country. Mr. Lourenço replaced the fund’s entire board in January.
José Eduardo dos Santos, who remains the leader of Mr. Lourenço’s ruling MPLA party, stepped down in September after 38 years at the helm of the southern African country.
After ending three decades of civil war in 2002, José Eduardo dos Santos oversaw an oil boom that turned Angola into the continent’s second-largest crude producer, behind Nigeria. Yet his tenure was marred by allegations of nepotism and widespread looting of public coffers while the majority of Angola’s 30 million citizens continued to live in poverty. Mr. dos Santos and his appointees have denied the allegations.
In November, Mr. Lourenço dismissed Isabel dos Santos, one of the former president’s daughters and Africa’s richest woman, according to Forbes magazine, as the head of the state oil company, Sonangol. Angolan authorities have said they are investigating Ms. dos Santos in connection with missing funds from Sonangol. She has denied the allegations.