Editorial: The Western enablers of global corruption

The Luanda Leaks, publicised late on Sunday evening, have vividly outlined the scale of the business empire of Isabel dos Santos, daughter of the former president of Angola, José Eduardo dos Santos. Isabel dos Santos and her husband, Sindika Dokolo — who together are worth more than $2.2-billion — have stakes in more than 400 companies in dozens of countries. Many of these countries are tax havens.

The leaks also show how Dos Santos accumulated this wealth: from handouts, dodgy contracts with state-owned entities, and mysterious transfers of cash from Angolan coffers into companies with which she is connected.

In their years-long project to loot the Angolan state, Isabel dos Santos and her family had some powerful allies, most notably the supposedly blue-chip auditing and consultancy firms — PwC, KPMG, McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, Deloitte, EY — that helped them structure their businesses, provided “creative” tax advice and then gave the whole enterprise their imprimatur of legitimacy.

It is clear that the behaviour of these firms in Angola is no aberration, but rather part of a larger pattern in which powerful Western companies aid and abet transnational corruption.

We don’t have to look very far to find other examples: in South Africa, Deloitte, KPMG and McKinsey have all been implicated in state capture.

All too often, corruption in Africa is dismissed as some kind of uniquely African problem. This has never been true, and thanks to the work of brave whistleblowers and dogged investigative journalists, we can now appreciate the scale of Western involvement in corruption on the continent.

Questions too must be asked of the academic institutions that gave dos Santos uncritical platforms — the likes of Yale and London School of Economics — to spin her narrative of being a model entrepreneur and self-made billionaire, as well as the celebrities — such as Lindsay Lohan, Rita Ora, Nicole Scherzinger, Paris Hilton, Amber Heard, Cara Delevingne and Harvey Weinstein — who eagerly took payments from Dos Santos in return for using their fame to launder her reputation.

The Dos Santos family must, of course, bear ultimate responsibility for the enormous corruption that entrenched poverty in the oil-rich country. But they were not alone, and the Western companies, institutions and individuals that helped them to do it are all complicit.

Keep the powerful accountable

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