Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

The story contained in the Luanda Leaks is one that exposes the systematic roots of a global crisis and the role of the "wealth defense industry"—the tax lawyers, accountants, consultants, and wealth managers that facilitate and enable this looting process worldwide. (Image: ICIJ/Marwen Ben Mustapha – Inkyfada)

The story contained in the Luanda Leaks is one that exposes the systematic roots of a global crisis and the role of the "wealth defense industry"—the tax lawyers, accountants, consultants, and wealth managers that facilitate and enable this looting process worldwide.  (Image: ICIJ/Marwen Ben Mustapha – Inkyfada)

Luanda Leaks and the Global Wealth Defense Industry

Why we should focus on the enablers exposed in the Angola scandal: Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey, and PwC

Chuck Collins

Growing global scrutiny is focused on Isabel de Santos, the wealthiest woman in Africa, who is accused of using her position to extract hundreds of millions—if not billions—of dollars in wealth for personal gain.

Dos Santos, daughter of Angola's autocratic leader from 1979 until 2017, allegedly used her public role as head of Sonangol, Angola's state oil company, and other state enterprises, to enrich herself and family members. Dos Santos denies any wrong-doing.

Thanks to the Luanda Leaks, a disclosure by a Portuguese whistleblower of 715,000 pages of documents, scrutiny has fallen on the unseemly mechanisms that wealthy elites around the world steal and hide wealth. You can read more background on the story here.

Angola is a country of diamonds, oil and extreme inequality. The plundering of its wealth has a long colonial legacy. The mass hiding of wealth through shell companies is an updated form of colonial kleptocracy.

But the story that exposes the systematic roots of this problem is the visible role of the "wealth defense industry"—the tax lawyers, accountants, consultants, and wealth managers that facilitate and enable this looting process. 

These are private companies, often headquartered in the UK and the United States, play an essential role in global plundering apparatus. They are, as sociologist Brooke Harrington has described them, the "agents of inequality."

While global banks such as Deutsche Bank, Barclays and Citigroup refused to do business with Isabel Dos Santos, a number of the world's professional service firms were happy to oblige. Dos Santos' wealth extraction would not have been possible without the aid of the Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey & Company, and accounting giant PwC (formerly known as PriceWaterhouseCooper).

PwC acted as Dos Santos' consultant, tax advisor and accountant—assisting with at least 20 companies controlled by she and her husband. 

McKinsey and Boston Consulting were hired by Dos Santos to restructure the state oil company Sonangol.  But these consulting firms were paid by shell companies based in Malta controlled by Dos Santos, not through official state channels, an obvious red flag for those monitoring money laundering.

"Paying huge and dubious consulting fees to anonymous companies in secrecy jurisdictions is a standard trick that should sound all alarm bells," said Christoph Trautvetter to the New York Times, a forensic accountant based in Berlin.

PwC claims it has terminated all work for companies controlled by the Dos Santos family, and begun an investigation. PwC chairman Bob Moritz, told the Guardian heads could roll at his company. "We'll wait for the investigation, I don't want to rush,," he said last week. "But we need to move with speed to take action to regain confidence."

The U.S. and the European Union requires banks and financial firms to report suspicious activities and transactions. But unlike the European Union, the U.S. does not impose the same requirements on accounting, legal and consulting firms.  The Luanda Leaks provides a clear rationale for expanded oversight of the wealth defense industry.

As Tom Keatinge, the director of the Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies at the UK-based Royal United Services Center, writes in the Guardian:

As banks build their defenses, an equally committed army of accountants, lawyers, consultants and advisors works to subvert those defenses.  They use every tool of financial engineering to hide ownership and obfuscate payments, ensuring that deniability is plausible and that if the trail followed by any investigator will be fiendishly complex. 

There remain other obstacles to overcoming: shortcomings in national and international regulations, governments' woeful underinvestment in their response to illicit finance, and a lack of transparency concerning company ownership.  This means that, until there is a revolution in how we tackle illicit finance, the sharp minds that enable the theft of national wealth will remain one step ahead.

The human cost of allowing the current system of professional enablers to continue is too high. The ability of nations to build their economies, tax citizens, and make public investments is being compromised at a dizzying pace.  Researchers estimate that some 10 to 12 percent of the world's wealth—trillions of dollars—is now hidden through a combination of tax haven secrecy jurisdictions, shell companies, opaque trusts and other mechanisms.

The professional wealth managers and consulting groups are not capable of policing themselves, though they should take a deep look at the culture and norms of their professions. Ultimately, lawmakers must set the rules of the road—requiring corporate transparency, disclosure of beneficial ownership, and timely country-by-country reporting on tax payments. And professional enablers should be held personally responsible for these crimes.

We need to turn these professional wealth escape artists into "compliance officers."  Only when their orientation shifts from tax dodging to tax compliance can we be more assured that world's wealthy are not hiding the treasure of their neighbors.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Chuck Collins

Chuck Collins

Chuck Collins is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies where he co-edits Inequality.org, and is author of the new book, "Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home, and Committing to the Common Good."  He is co-founder of Wealth for the Common Good, recently merged with the Patriotic Millionaires. He is co-author of "99 to 1: The Moral Measure of the Economy" and, with Bill Gates Sr., of "Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes."

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Congress Must Act': Bernie Sanders Demands End of Filibuster to Codify Abortion Rights

"We must pass legislation that codifies Roe v. Wade as the law of the land in this country. And if there aren't 60 votes to do it, and there are not, we must reform the filibuster to pass it with 50 votes."

Jon Queally ·


Human Rights Defenders Warn Biden Border Policy 'Quickly Transforming Into Trump 2.0'

Like his predecessor, President Joe Biden now being accused of "using racist, xenophobic tropes about immigrants to weaponize Covid-19 against migrants and asylum-seekers."

Jon Queally ·


'Bombshell': Israeli Spyware Used to Hack iPhones of US State Department Officials

Calling the Israel-based spyware maker NSO Group an "in-plain-sight national security threat," one expert warned that "a multi-agency investigation is immediately needed."

Jessica Corbett ·


US Progressive Caucus Hails Honduran Election as Chance for 'New Chapter' in Relations

"We encourage the Biden administration to use this opportunity to make a clean break with previous presidential administrations, which worked to ensure that the 2009 coup d'état succeeded."

Brett Wilkins ·


'The Facts of This Case Are So Egregious': Parents of Michigan School Shooter Charged in Killings

"There were a lot of things that could have been so simple to prevent," the Oakland County prosecutor said of the mother and father now being sought by law enforcement.

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo