CHRISTEL PALACE: HIGH TREASON IN THE TROPICS

Between the appointment of Denis Christel Sassou Nguesso in 2001 and the year 2017, more than US $ 5 billion was diverted to the detriment of the Congolese state. Through complex arrangements of front companies in several tax-havens, what should be called the Sassou Nguesso Clan, has siphoned off the country's resources to the point of causing economic bankruptcy. The history of the clan is read like a suspense movie where different protagonists meet, around a palace, reinforcing their grip on the Congolese state.

THE LITTLE CLERK WHO WANTED TO BECOME OIL MOGUL

St Alphage House, 2 Fore Street London London
EC2Y 5DH United Kingdom

In the early hours of May 27, 1998, a London lawyer rushes into the offices of the chartered accountancy firm Uhy Hacker Young to register a new company, the National Oil Company of Congo UK limited ( SNPC UK Limited ). Denis Sassou Nguesso took power less than a year ago after a bloody coup. There was still violence across Congo, and the junta needed fresh money to terrorize Congoleses; government-linked militiamen initiated a  scorched earth campaign in the south of the country that will last from December 1998 till December 1999. In total, this oil war killed nearly 10 % of the population, or almost 400,000 dead.

In total, this oil war killed nearly 10 % of the population, or almost 400,000 dead.

1011-1012, 10/F., Two Pacific Place,
88 Queensway, Hong Kong.

It was only a small transaction for the lawyer who entered the Londonese glass and concrete building. Still, it is the beginning of a long plundering scheme on behalf of the Sassou clan. Chinese companies, such as SNPC UK Limited, took for 20 years the lion’s share at the expense of traditional partners, the local economy, and the environment. It is in this context that a Chinese merchant from Hong Kong, Patrick Shu Fai To, director of several companies, including the construction vehicle rental company Man Fai Tai, was appointed honorary consul of the Congo in Hong Kong. The businessman has allowed to fast-track illegal timber exports, as well as connecting the Congolese regime to Asian financial centres. From this initiative, the 88 Queensway Group, a consortium of investors linked to the Chinese secret services, was established.

SNPC UK Limited is just one of the many shell companies created to cover the tracks of Congolese oil revenues and financing the lifestyle of Denis Christel Sassou Nguesso. He also created SNPC Asia Holding Limited and SNPC Asia Trading in association with the Chinese mafia and the Portuguese company Escom Espirito Santo, both domiciled in Hong Kong

The red tape of the little cleric who became an oil mogul

Denis Christel thinks big. He became the owner of 10% of the National Oil Company (SNPC) and sells 85% of the shares to a Chinese consortium.

Congo – Congolese president’s youngest son accused of embezzling $ 50 million

On March 21, 2005, the secretive 88 Queensway group created a joint venture in the Congo with the national oil company, the Société Nationale des Pétroles du Congo (SNPC). The joint venture, called SNPC Asia, has brought on their board several Chinese businesspeople, including Lo Fong Hung and Veronica Fung directors at Dayuan International Development, as well as senior management staff from the parent company SNPC. A few weeks earlier, the Congolese government signed two offshore exploration and production deals with the China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation ( SINOPEC ) for the Marine XII and high seas C blocks on February 23, 2005. Another Chinese businessman, Wu Yang (owner of 30% of Dayuan), appears in Angolan governmental reports as the vice president of SINOPEC. Dayuan International Development has, as co-director, Helder Bataglia, a reputed Portuguese-Angolan citizen close to Presidents Hugo Chavez, Cristina Kirchner, and Eduardo Dos Santos, as well as.

NAME OF THE COMPANYOWNERADDRESSMANAGEMENT
SNPC ASIA HOLDING 85%: Dayuan International Development Limited

5%: Escom – Espirito Santo Commerce, Ltd

10%: Société Nationale des Pétroles du Congo (SNPC)
1011-1012, 10 / F., Two Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Hong KongLo Fong Hung, Veronica Fung, Denis Christel Sassou Nguesso, Denis Gokana
SNPC ASIA TRADING LIMITED100%: SNPC Asia Holding Limited1011-1012, 10 / F., Two Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Hong KongLo Fong Hung, Veronica Fung, Denis Christel Sassou Nguesso, Denis Gokana

The 1997 coup has been analyzed through different angles. While the Lissouba government faced several internal strives, it appears now that the oil majors refused to respect the oil production sharing objectives of the government. Indeed, the average State share in oil production does not exceed 21% in all SNPC-controlled permits. In detail, except for Mayombe (100%) and MENGO-KUDJI-BINDI II (60%) permits, the SNPC’s share hardly exceeds 15%. Excluding these two permits, the average drops to 17%.

Between 2011 to 2013, the national refinery has not paid what it owes to the government. Thus, more than 12% of the profit oil has turned into a state debt.

Licence AreaOWNEROPERATORPLAN(CONTRACTOR NAME)(% OF PARTICIPATION)PHASE IN THE CYCLE
MINING (OIL)
MARINE IIISNPCNEW AGE CPP SNPC /
NEW AGE
25% /
75%
EXPLORATION
KAYOWING WAHWING WAH CPP SNPC /
WING WAH
15% /
85%
EXPLORATION
NGOKI SNPC P.E.P.A CPP SNPC / P.E.P.A 10% / 90% EXPLORATION

See table : CONGO-B OIL PERMITS

These profits represent nearly US$ 600 million per year or US$ 1.8 billion diverted in three years

These profits represent nearly US$ 600 million per year or US$ 1.8 billion diverted in three years. Denis Christel managed the Congolaise de Raffinage ( CORAF ) in total opacity. Oil tankers operate with impunity. On March 4, 2012, a military barrack exploded. It was used for storing explosives for Escom-Espirito Santo, a company within which SNPC is a 5% shareholder. The explosion destroyed a working-class housing neighbouring, Mpila-Ouenzé, killing hundreds of Congolese.

SASSOU NGUESSO CLAN’S LAUNDROMAT

Money-laundering a colossal amount of diverted money required skills and creativity: the duo José Veiga ( Asperbras Congo ) and Wilfrid Etoka ( Eco Oil Congo ) were up for the challenge. Through the accelerated municipal building and public works program, the “Water for all” project, and the “Major Works” policy, led by Jean-Jacques Bouya, the regime used overcharges to launder the embezzled money. 

One of the most glaring examples is the company GABOX belonging to Denis Christel. On December 11th, 2013, it signed a contract with a subsidiary of Asperbras LLC, the company Energy & Mining. This was only two days after it signed an agreement to conduct geological mapping for wells under the “Water for All” project.  

Through this montage, Claudia Sassou Nguesso, communication advisor and daughter of the President, acquired an apartment in the New York Trump Tower York for US$ 7 million.

CLAUDIA SASSOU PURCHASED AN APARTMENT IN TRUMP TOWER IN NEW YORK WITH MONEY FLYING TO THE PEOPLE.

During this period, the Minister of Major Works, Jean Jacques Bouya, embezzled US$ 100 million via the Republic of San Marino with his now-condemned intermediary, Philippe Chironi. The aviation company ECair, created in 2011, was an empty shell for the benefit of COEM, a Swiss company belonging to a straw man of Jean Jacques Bouya, Marco Villa. COEM thus embezzled nearly US$ 440 million. From the defunct airline, Congo has kept a Dreamliner jet, one of the most luxurious in the world. The Sasson clan now rents it from the Congolese State for their trips through a Chinese shell company.

The entire Congolese state is a victim of the voracity of the clan. Locally, real estate speculation drives people from the city center to the outskirts. The market prices hit the roof in favor of those close to the clan. Meanwhile, the Clan gets all the contracts without public biddings: Serge Pereira, husband of a relative to the Nguesso family (as well as being the daughter of ENI’s CEO), Cindy Descalzi, was attributed, through a consortium including its own company Unicon Congo, the construction of part of the Kintélé complex and the Sassou Nguesso University. Italian oil company ENI was awarded several contracts, including mining rights for oil sands in the Dimoneka nature reserve in 2008. The company mentions in its report a donation of 8.5 million euros in 2007 to “a local humanitarian NGO: the Congo Assistance Foundation” by Madame Sassou. Madeleine Ingoba Descalzi and her company Pétroservices received from 2012 to 2017 nearly US$ 105 million from ENI. 

Meanwhile, a US$ 2.2 billion contract, attributed to Cyprus-registered crude oil trader Gunvor, has been used for bribing several members of the clan: Maxime and Yoan Gandzion, Cedric Okiarina, Abbas Haidara, Denis, and Antoinette Sassou Nguesso, and Edgard Sassou Nguesso. In October 2011, it became a memorandum for a US$ 1.1 billion pipeline, which has yet to be built. 

The Cash Dragon

The Clan’s voracity affects all economic sectors. Wilfrid Etoka announced in 2007 an investment of US$ 700 million for various projects: an agribusiness group, a shoe factory, biofuel. Pushing the scam to unprecedented levels, he launched a micro-irrigation project intended for desertic areas in a country with a humid tropical climate and announced the discovery of non-existing oil fields in an attempt to launder money.

Since 1998, the state-crown company SOCOTRAM has collected millions of dollars in taxes levied from merchant ship activities and loading oil exportation. The chairman of the board of directors and general manager, Wilfried Sassou Nguesso, is considered by the Canadian federal justice, in a judgment confirmed by the Supreme Court, as a member of a criminal organization: the Nguesso family.

Besides oil, Pierre Oba and Denis Christel Sassou Nguesso control the mining sector firmly. This led to several financial scandals, including Sundance Resources or MagIndustries (US$ 1.5 billion). The catastrophe is not only economical, but it is also ecological in the Cuvette-Ouest region, like the Sangha or Kelle projects. 

A systemic looting

Between 2001 and 2017, about US$ 5.3 billion, representing 59% of the amount of the foreign debt or 2.5 years of the national budget, was diverted by the Nguesso clan. This is what we know of.

Diversion casesAmount diverted% diverted case /debtMoney Laundering caseamount laundered% laundering case / total diverted
CORAF – Philia$1 800 000 00034%Etoka/Eco-oil$700 000 00013%
MagIndustries$1 200 000 00022%Asperbras LLC Delaware$675 000 00013%
Sundance$9 000 0000,2%Saint-Marin/Bouya$100 000 0002%
Gunvor$2 200 000 00041%ECAIR/COEM$440 000 0008%
Petroservice Descalzi$105 000 0002%Pipeline Memorandum$1 100 000 00021%
Socotram$36 000 0001%


TOTAL diverted$5 350 000 000
Total laundered$3 015 000 00056%
Congo’s external debt$9 000 000 000



Total diverted / Debt in %59%
Total laundered / Debt in%34%

With the help of Chinese, Portuguese, Russian, Swiss, Italian, French and Brazilian corruption networks, the clan was able to use all possible corrupt means to launder 56% of the money diverted in construction works,  which was used to sustain an ultra-rich lifestyle between Venice, Dubai, New York, Paris, and Miami. 

For the about US$ 2.3 billion that could not be traced, there might be in one of the Clan’s safes, in Congo or around the world. 

TERROR OVER DEVELOPMENT

While the Clan fills its pockets, Congolese don’t get anything in terms of services. The crumbs left are mostly used for policing citizens. 

In the national budget, second to the Ministry of Finance, the national defence budget claims 12%. In comparison, only 4% goes to post-secondary education. The defense budget is used principally to wage war against the civilian population. The government over-invest in its security forces through a North Korean-style budget model. In this budget, there is money diverted for tribal militias and the political police, while the national police gets only 5%. 

Despite the colossal sums spent, the results on operational defence capacity remain mixed. Of new armoured fail to counter the lack of critical equipment or training of soldiers. This Congolese defence budget, therefore, goes exclusively to the purchase of goods and services, information, GIGN and mercenary training, equipment and fattening of plethoric tribal officers. The crumbs are for the henchmen which in any case ransom the populations to make ends meet.

Despite significant funds, the results are not impressive. While ordering new armored vehicles, soldiers lack critical equipment and proper training. Most of the Congolese defence budget goes to goods and services, intelligence for training mercenaries and special forces, and to bribe tribal officers. At the end of the day, soldiers cannot meet ends and are left with no other choice than racketing citizens.

Despite all these expenses, the Congolese are not safer. The rebellion of Pastor Ntumi defeated the army and reached the surroundings of Brazzaville in 2016-2017. The Police have not been able to curb the growing insecurity in the country’s cities.

Meanwhile, the security forces have accumulated atrocities: arms trafficking in the Central African Republic, bombing in the Pool region, torture and rape by law enforcement officers. Culprits face impunity, as no cases have been prosecuted.

This state-sponsored terror has one goal: protecting the oil flow, and the 83% shares owned by multinational companies, as well as the remaining 17% captured by the clan.

The needs of the clan have led Congo into a vicious circle: it needs money to keep the control, and it needs to hold power to access the benefits of the extractive industry to fund its regime.  In Congo-Brazzaville, corruption is not a dysfunction of the political system, it is the political system.