Swiss oil broker's dodgy dealings in Angola

By Richard Lee | February 04th, 2013
Sonangol facility from BD report
Sonangol facility from BD report
Sonangol facility from BD report

Trafigura, the third largest Swiss corporation in terms of turnover, is cutting itself a large piece of the pie in Angola according to a hard-hitting report by a Swiss NGO, the Berne Declaration (BD).

The Geneva and Lucerne-based company has allied itself with General Leopoldino Fragoso do Nascimento, also known as “Dino”. General Dino is a special adviser to General Manuel Helder Vieira Dias Jr, also known as “Kopelipa” - who is himself Chief of the Military Office for the Angolan presidency. This relationship was confirmed with the alliance of Trafigura Pte (Singapore) and a company called Cochan Pte (Singapore). The Director of Cochan Pte is General Dino and the sole shareholder is Cochan (Bahamas).

This matrimony gave birth to DTS Holdings with Dino as one of the directors, and Geneva-based Claude Dauphin, one of the founders of Trafigura, the other. DTS Holdings earns extravagant profits from its oil operations owing to a staggering contract, valued at US$3.3 billion in 2011 - DTS exports Angolan crude and in return provides all of the oil-derivative products that Angola requires.

There is a third Cochan, this time based in Angola. An investment contract worth $931 million led to a partnership between Cochan (Angola) and Puma Energy, another subsidiary of Trafigura. Cochan has a majority holding in this lucrative creation known as Pumangol Holdings (British Virgin Islands). In 2011, Trafigura sold 20% of Puma Energy to Sonangol Holdings LDA, creating further links between the Swiss firm and their Angola interlocutors.

Cochan’s registered address in Angola is the same as the address for forty or so companies belonging to a trio of Angolan officials all close to President Dos Santos, in power since 1979. This “triumvirate”, which dominates the economy, comprises, in addition to General Dino, current Angolan Vice-President and former CEO of Sonangol, Manuel Vicente, and General Kopelipa. They are subject to criminal investigations in Portugal for tax evasion and money laundering. Moreover, an American firm, Cobalt International Energy, is being investigated in the US as a result of its links to the trio.

Trafigura was contacted by BD - an NGO that has been promoting more equitable, sustainable and democratic North-South relations since 1968 - but did not wish to answer any questions regarding the report.

In the US, laws have been passed forcing oil and mining companies to publish any payments made to governments in countries where they are active; the EU is also about to do the same. Switzerland has decided to do nothing.

The lack of transparency and regulation in Switzerland provides a refuge for unscrupulous companies and contributes to enriching dictators to the detriment of the poorest peoples on the planet. Angola is but another country on the long list where Switzerland is complicit in the plundering of their natural resources. The Swiss authorities should follow their US and European counterparts in adopting legislation in this area.

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