Sourcing

Report Links De Grisogono to Money Laundering in Angola

SourcingJan 22, 2020

Report Links De Grisogono to Money Laundering in Angola

An investigation alleges the jewelry brand was a central piece of a scheme that funneled billions of dollars of public funds into the pockets of members of the former first family.

20171002_DeGrisogono-header.jpg
“The Art of de Grisogono, Creation I” necklace was auctioned off in December 2017, with one member of the trade boycotting the sale to call attention to alleged corruption. Now, an investigation by a consortium of journalists has linked the brand to a money-laundering scheme involving the former president’s daughter and her husband.
New York—Jewelry brand De Grisogono allegedly was a central piece of a money-laundering scheme that funneled billions of dollars from the Angolan government and into the pockets of members of the former first family, a new report alleges.

An investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and 36 media partners, dubbed “Luanda Leaks” after the Angolan capital, has exposed decades of allegedly corrupt deals made by Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of former president José Eduardo dos Santos, and her husband, Sindika Dokolo, to siphon vast amounts of the Angolan government’s money to their own accounts through shell companies.

Based on more than 715,000 confidential and business records as well as hundreds of interviews, the investigation, which was made public Jan. 19, also highlights the many consultants, lawyers and financial institutions that helped dos Santos grow her fortune.

Dos Santos is the richest woman in Africa; Forbes has her fortune valued at $2.1 billion as of Wednesday.

Yet her native Angola remains one of the poorest countries on Earth. The average life expectancy is only 60 and about 5 percent of infants die before their 1st birthday.

Angola is also one of the most corrupt countries in the world, according to Transparency International.

In its investigation, ICIJ reported that dos Santos, her husband and their intermediaries built an empire comprised of more than 400 companies and subsidiaries, including at least 94 in “secrecy jurisdictions”—tax havens—like Malta, Mauritius and Hong Kong.

They awarded the companies consulting jobs, loans, contracts and licenses worth billions of dollars from the Angolan government.

Their empire included diamonds and jewelry on a few levels, including stakes in the country’s diamond mining sector, but the report focused most on the link between the couple and Swiss jewelry brand De Grisogono.

Media outlets have been reporting on the couple’s connection to De Grisogono for years, including Forbes and The New York Times

National Jeweler, too, has covered the connection. 

In late 2017, gemstone expert Yianni Melas, known in the industry for his Instagram handle @gemexplorer, put the brand front and center by going on a hunger strike to boycott the sale of a De Grisogono necklace set with a 163.41-carat Angolan diamond.

Melas’ issue: That the brand was making the rich leaders of Angola richer while the people of Angola remained so poor. 


The necklace ended up selling for $33.7 million and setting an auction record for a D-flawless diamond but not before stirring the conversation about the company and its backers, as Melas had intended.

Now, the investigation by the ICIJ has detailed exactly how they are linked and the Angolan government’s involvement.

Funding the Jeweler
According to the NY Times, which had access to the documents compiled to create Luanda Leaks and published its own story Jan. 19, luxury jeweler De Grisogono was hit hard by the financial crisis and left in serious debt.

Dokolo, dos Santos’ husband, decided to step in, taking a controlling stake in the Swiss brand in 2012 through two shell companies incorporated in Malta.

His business partner in the deal: Sodiam, Angola’s state-owned diamond company.

Records obtained by ICIJ and the Times show Sodiam—and, essentially, Angola and its largely impoverished people—financed the acquisition and pumped more than $100 million into the jeweler, which fell deeper into the red over the years.

Yet, the Times report states, the jeweler’s financial struggles didn’t stop De Grisogono’s “rich patrons,” including dos Santos, from taking pieces without paying for them, and it didn’t stop the jewelry brand from spending millions funding a star-studded Cannes Film Festival party.

Though dos Santos has denied she was a stakeholder in De Grisogono, the Times reported that “several emails and documents call that into question.”

Dokolo, meanwhile, has said he had wanted to use his stake in the company to integrate the country’s diamond industry, from mining to retail.

But any benefits for Angola and its people never came to pass, and they seemingly never will.

According to the Times report, Sodiam never took control of De Grisogono or recouped its investment despite being a partner, and the government currently owes Banco BIC, an Angolan lender in which dos Santos owns a stake, about $225 million for all the money it has sunk into the jewelry company.

Cutting Ties
Sodiam has since divested its stake in De Grisogono under Angola’s new president, João Lourenço.

When dos Santos’ mining licenses expired, it also decided to put them up for sale to new exploration partners.

De Grisogono, meanwhile, has seen more struggles and reorganization in recent years.

Disappointing sales led it to eliminate several jobs in early 2018 and scale back production, focusing on more affordable fine jewelry.

At the end of 2018, De Grisogono founder Fawaz Gruosi left the company and stepped down from his role as a board director. The company said at the time, according to a press release, it wasn’t a “sudden move,” as Gruosi had been “stepping aside from the day-to-day operations for some time.”

Last April, the brand appointed a new CEO, naming former Piaget executive Céline Assimon to the role.

The future of De Grisogono, in light of this latest report and its recent financial struggles, remains unclear.

The company did not respond to National Jeweler’s request for comment on the ICIJ’s report, though it has given other media outlets a “no comment.”

Three U.S. retailers that carry the brand—Saks, Bergdorf Goodman and Net-a-Porter—did not respond to email inquiries seeking comment on the report or to offer statements by press time.

As for dos Santos, an Angolan court froze her major assets in December as part of a corruption investigation, of which the main focus is $38 million in payments from the state oil business Sonangol to a shell company in Dubai hours after dos Santos was fired as head of Sonangol. 

The Angolan government also is trying to recover $1.1 billion it says it’s owed by dos Santos, her husband and a close associate. 

Her U.S. attorneys, from the firm of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, did not respond to an email request for comment by press time. 

But, according to ICIJ, through her lawyers dos Santos and her husband have denied wrongdoing and said they did not profit from political connections. 

The two could face years in prison if they are convicted.

Brecken Branstratoris the senior editor, gemstones at National Jeweler, covering sourcing, pricing and other developments in the colored stone sector.

The Latest

Elton John’s leopard print Rolex Daytona watch
AuctionsFeb 22, 2024
Elton John’s Leopard-Print Rolex Roars at Auction

Two Cartier watches also topped their estimates at Christie’s “The Collection of Sir Elton John: Goodbye Peachtree Road” evening sale.

Buccellati header
TrendsFeb 22, 2024
Buccellati to Open ‘Prince of Goldsmiths’ Exhibition

Set to be held in Venice, it’s a look through the maison’s history.

Sebastian Clarke and Katherine van Dell of Heritage Auctions
AuctionsFeb 22, 2024
Heritage Auctions Adds 2 New Hires to West Palm Beach Office

Sebastian Clarke and Katherine van Dell, frequent appraisers on “Antiques Roadshow,” will join the new office.

GIA id100
Brought to you by
Full Disclosure at Your Fingertips

Distinguishing natural diamonds from laboratory-grown stones – now more available than ever – has been difficult for jewelers. Until now.

National Jeweler columnist Sherry Smith
ColumnistsFeb 21, 2024
On Data: January Was a ‘Mixed Bag’ for Independent Jewelers

Sherry Smith dishes on the month’s highs and lows and the two categories consumers were loving ahead of Valentine’s Day.

Weekly QuizFeb 22, 2024
This Week’s Quiz
Test your jewelry news knowledge with this short test.
Take the Quiz
Stock image of diamonds
GradingFeb 21, 2024
GIA’s Same-Day Service Now Available Everywhere

The new service, introduced to stem fraud related to lab-grown diamonds, will be offered at no cost for the time being.

Jam + Rico Claire’s jewelry
CollectionsFeb 21, 2024
Jam + Rico Debuts Second Claire’s Collection

Founder Lisette Scott was inspired by the intricacy, colors, and symbolism of African art and architecture.

flashforge pic.png
Brought to you by
WaxJet: Revolution in Jewelry Manufacturing

The WaxJet 400, recognized as the world's fastest wax printer, is bringing in a new era of precision and efficiency to industry.

National Jeweler columnist Peter Smith
ColumnistsFeb 20, 2024
Squirrel Spotting: Life After Rolex

Peter Smith shares advice from independent jewelers who used losing this cornerstone brand as a catalyst for reinvention.

Neile Adams McQueen and Steve McQueen
AuctionsFeb 20, 2024
Jewels from Neile Adams McQueen Shine at Bonhams

All 13 lots belonging to the actress and first wife of Steve McQueen sold at the recent “California Jewels” sale.

Stuller bench jeweler
Events & AwardsFeb 20, 2024
Stuller to Host Bench Jeweler Workshop in March

Registration is also open for its “Battle of the Benches” challenge.

Mary Ball Gorman of Henry B. Ball Jewelers
IndependentsFeb 16, 2024
Mary Ball Gorman of Henry B. Ball Jewelers Dies at 99

Gorman was an industry trailblazer, serving as the first female treasurer of Jewelers of America.

Jade Ruzzo gold and diamond Tennessee Torque necklace
CollectionsFeb 16, 2024
Piece of the Week: Jade Ruzzo’s Tribute to Tennessee

The movement of the 18-karat gold and diamond “Tennessee Torque” necklace is subtle.

Jared Goff and Claudia Cividino
MajorsFeb 15, 2024
Detroit Lions’ QB Jared Goff Going to Jared

Goff, whose fans hold up “He Went to Jared” signs at games, has signed a partnership with the retailer.

De Beers Venetia diamond mine
SourcingFeb 15, 2024
De Beers’ Production Down 8% in 2023

The company recovered 31.9 million carats of diamonds in 2023, compared with 34.6 million in 2022.

Gina D’Onofrio Heritage Auctions
AuctionsFeb 15, 2024
Heritage Auctions Names New Co-Director of Fine Jewelry

Industry veteran Gina D’Onofrio has rejoined the auction house.

Indian Diamond and Colorstone Association (IDCA) awards
Events & AwardsFeb 15, 2024
IDCA Hands Out Awards in Tucson

The association also celebrated its 40th anniversary.

A selection of engagement rings
TrendsFeb 14, 2024
5 Engagement Ring Trends for 2024

From three-stone rings to fancy shapes, experts weigh in on what consumers could be looking for this year.

Boucheron Power of Couture
CollectionsFeb 14, 2024
Boucheron’s New High Jewelry Collection Pays Homage to Ceremony, History

“Power of Couture” recalls Frédéric Boucheron’s love of fabric using diamonds and rock crystal.

Rough diamonds from Gahcho Kue diamond mine
SourcingFeb 14, 2024
De Beers’ Rough Diamond Sales Improve Slightly

The diamond miner and marketer said “solid” holiday sales in the U.S. helped stabilize the industry.

Jonker I Diamonds
SourcingFeb 14, 2024
‘100 Carats’ Exhibition Opens at LA Museum

A new display at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County features dozens of gemstones each weighing 100 carats or more.

Grand Seiko New York City flagship
WatchesFeb 14, 2024
See Inside Grand Seiko’s New NYC Flagship

Located on Madison Avenue, the store is its largest in the world.

GIA logo
GradingFeb 14, 2024
GIA Offering Discounts on Jade Reports

The 20 percent off promotion will run through March 31.

KIL Promotions NYC Spring Jewelry and Object Show
Events & AwardsFeb 14, 2024
KIL NYC Show Returns for Spring Edition

Its second trade event will feature vintage pieces and contemporary collections.

Lydia Courteille Lips ring
TrendsFeb 13, 2024
Amanda’s Style File: Symbols of Love

When it comes to Valentine’s Day jewels, the fun doesn’t stop at hearts.

Nana and Jennifer
Events & AwardsFeb 13, 2024
First Responders Win BIJC’s Second ‘Together by Design’ Contest

The couple won a bespoke engagement ring set with a 1.44-carat fancy yellow diamond and designed by Michael Hogan.

Claire’s The Collab campaign
MajorsFeb 13, 2024
Claire’s New Campaign Is for ‘Gen Zalpha’

Its new brand ambassadors, ages 7 to 17, will have some creative control over the ad campaign, called “The Collab.”

×

This site uses cookies to give you the best online experience. By continuing to use & browse this site, we assume you agree to our Privacy Policy