The Sassou-Ngueso family, which has ruled Congo for nearly 40 years, has been embroiled in another controversy, this time, involving alleged money laundering.
The daughter of the president of Congo-Brazzaville allegedly misappropriated public funds to buy a luxury apartment in the Donald Trump residential and hotel complex in New York, said the Global Witness, an anti-corruption NGO.
Claudia Sassou-Nguesso, who is also the president’s director of communications, allegedly purchased the $7 million apartment in Manhattan in the summer of 2014, raising new concerns about Trump’s ties to international money laundering.
According to Global Witness, José Veiga, a Portuguese businessman and Claudia Sassou-Nguesso’s henchman, was commissioned to buy the apartment. On paper, the owner of the 32G apartment at the Trump Tower is the company, Ecree, but Global Witness said the real owner of the luxury building at the intersection of Columbus Circle and Central Park South is rather Claudia Sassou-Nguesso.
To appropriate the apartment, she allegedly called on an intermediary, the Portuguese businessman Veiga, who is also a representative of Asperbras, a Brazilian construction giant that is making inroads in Brazzaville since Brazil helped clear the debt of Congo.
Asperbras would later transfer subsidiary funds to a subsidiary, notably in the British Virgin Islands, a well-known tax haven, Global Witness said.
It explained that the money was funnelled through Cyprus, the British Virgin Islands, and Delaware after being withdrawn from the Congolese treasury. Trump International Realty, owned by the Trump Organization, brokered the sale, according to documents reviewed by the NGO.
It added that an international law firm and a front company, with headquarters in Cyprus, were also involved in the transaction.
Veiga had, in 2017, said that the apartment was owned by a company where he was a shareholder. He said the apartment was financed by him alone and “has nothing to do with third parties, namely the family of the President of Congo.”
Yet, a letter Veiga wrote to the Trump International board read: “This letter is sent to you on behalf of my good friend, Lauren Anne Marie Ikia Lemboumba, who have [sic] applied to purchase an apartment in Trump International Hotel & Tower Condominium.”
Lauren Anne Marie Ikia Lemboumba is the 17-year-old daughter of Claudia Sassou-Nguesso, according to Global Witness.
The purchase occurred two years before Trump was elected president. Global Witness said the Trump Organization should “clarify the source of the payments for condominium maintenance of apartment 32G since May 2015 as well as Donald Trump’s role in these companies.”
A Trump Organization spokesperson has, however, told The New York Times that the apartment was purchased from a third party unrelated to the Trump Organization. It said any building fees paid by the owner go toward maintenance and “are not fees paid to Trump for profit.”
Yet, Global Witness investigator Peter Jones told Quartz that the deal “has all the hallmarks of money laundering.”
Meanwhile, members of the entourage of Claudia Sassou-Nguesso said that the Global Witness report is “false” and that the daughter of the Congo leader “never bought a house in the places indicated and does not intend to buy. “
Veiga, at the moment, is reported to be under investigations in his country of origin, Portugal, in connection with corruption and money laundering issues.
Since October 25, 1997, Sasso-Nguesso has been the president of the Republic of the Congo.
Civil wars and other conflicts have been intense in the country while almost half of the population lives in poverty, the World Bank has said. This is in spite of the fact that the country is one of sub-Saharan Africa’s main oil producers, making oil the backbone of the economy.
The Sasso-Nguesso family has also met lots of controversies over the years. In 2017, Claudia Sassou-Nguesso’s sister, Julienne Sassou-Nguesso, and her husband Guy Johnson, were placed under investigation by French authorities for “money laundering and misuse of public funds.”
Investigators have since 2010 widened a corruption probe into the French assets of the family.