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Tycoon jailed in Angola fails in bid to have money released from $749m kept in S’pore account

Tycoon jailed in Angola fails in bid to have money released from $749m kept in S’pore account

Source: Straits Times
Article Date: 18 May 2023
Author: Selina Lum

Carlos Manuel De Sao Vicente had a Bank of Singapore account containing more than US$558 million (S$749 million) that was seized by the Commercial Affairs Department on Feb 19, 2021.

An Angolan tycoon, who has been sentenced to nine years’ jail in the southern African nation for embezzlement, money laundering and tax fraud, on Wednesday failed in his bid for $2.6 million to be released from his Singapore bank account.

Carlos Manuel De Sao Vicente had a Bank of Singapore (BOS) account containing more than US$558 million (S$749 million) that was seized by the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) on Feb 19, 2021.

The white-collar crime unit also seized two other accounts with the same bank – one belonging to De Sao Vicente’s wife Irene, which contained more than US$5 million, and the other belonging to his son Ivo, which contained US$10.5 million.

On Sept 28, 2022, De Sao Vicente, who is represented by local law firm TSMP Law Corporation, applied to the Singapore High Court for the release of US$4.9 million from his frozen account. He later revised the amount to $2.6 million.

He contended that he has no other source of funds and needed the money to pay for his legal expenses in Singapore, Switzerland and Angola, and for legal representations to various international organisations.

On Wednesday, the court dismissed his application.

In his written judgment, Justice Vincent Hoong said it was difficult to survey the true extent of De Sao Vincente’s wealth, given the numerous cross-jurisdictional transfers of large sums between his bank accounts and the international nature of his assets.

For instance, De Sao Vincente, who is the son-in-law of Angola’s first president Agostinho Neto, had more than €18 million (S$26 million) in a personal bank account in the United Kingdom, which was not disclosed or explained.

“In the circumstances, I am unable to find as a fact that the applicant is unable to access funds which represent less than a fraction of a percentage of his wealth solely based on his bare assertions,” said Justice Hoong.

The judge added there was sufficient evidence that De Sao Vincente’s family members have access to funds which would be more than sufficient to cover his legal expenses.

He said: “It would not be unreasonable to expect the applicant to explore the possibility of seeking funds from his family. They have access to sufficient assets to pay his legal fees without undue hardship to themselves.

“These assets were gifted by the applicant himself. There is good reason for them to be inclined to extend funding to him.”

At the peak of his wealth, De Sao Vincente had a fortune of more than US$1 billion.

He was the majority shareholder of the leading co-insurance firm in the oil industry of Angola, which is the second largest oil producer in Africa.

De Sao Vincente, a Portuguese-Angolan citizen, owned and controlled multiple companies in Angola, Britain, Bermuda and Portugal, and has bank accounts across the globe, including in Singapore and Switzerland.

On Sept 22, 2020, Angolan prosecutors held De Sao Vincente in custody and charged him with money laundering and tax fraud. He was convicted on all the charges on March 24, 2022, and sentenced to nine years’ jail and a fine. He was also ordered to pay relevant judicial fees and US$4.5 billion in compensation for damages to the Angolan state.

The Angolan courts found that he had embezzled more than US$1.2 billion from the country and had accumulated unexplained wealth estimated at US$3.6 billion belonging to him, his family and his companies.

His assets and those of his family in Angola were confiscated by the state.

De Sao Vincente failed in his appeal, and a further appeal to the country’s Supreme Court is pending.

He claims that his family is being targeted because of his wife’s outspoken criticism of alleged corruption.

The current application before the Singapore court relates to funds that flowed to his BOS account.

In September 2018, De Sao Vincente ordered US$400 million to be transferred from the accounts of one of his companies to his personal account with Banque Syz in Switzerland.

In December that year, prosecutors in Geneva froze his account over suspicions of money laundering.

In April 2019, he was allowed to transfer US$219 million and €18 million to his BOS account.

CAD investigators also found 18 separate transfers of funds from the account of another company into his BOS account between November 2018 and September 2019. These totalled €12.5 million and US$103 million.

No reasonable explanation has been given to CAD or the court for these transfers.

Before the BOS accounts were frozen, De Sao Vincente transferred more than €6 million to the Portugese bank accounts of his wife, two sons and daughter between November 2018 and August 2020.

Source: Straits Times © SPH Media Limited. Permission required for reproduction.

Carlos Manuel De São Vicente v Public Prosecutor [2023] SGHC 143


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