Recent reports show that African billionaire Isabel dos Santos concealed her luxury apartment by using the United States as a tax haven. The use of the tax haven allowed dos Santos and her husband to hide an apartment in Lisbon, Portugal, worth $1.8 million.
How They Used the Tax Haven
The idea of concealing physical property in one country via a tax haven in another is slightly unusual for some people. The most common thought when picturing a tax haven is moving funds around.
Dos Santos achieved this by owning the apartment via Decade International LCC. The company is based in Delaware, and first registered in 2003. This information only came to light as part of the Luanda Leaks, which were the result of an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
Other Tax Haven Actions of dos Santos
The Luanda Leaks found that Isabel dos Santos makes heavy use of secrecy havens. She funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into them from Angola, her home country.
The report indicates that after dos Santos got the funds offshore, she would use the now-secret funds to buy assets and businesses. These include the Portuguese luxury home worth $1.8 million.
The Consequences for dos Santos
Unsurprisingly, dos Santos denies that she has done anything wrong. This is in line with most high net worth individuals who make use of tax havens as they are technically legal and can be appropriately used to exploit loopholes in taxation and reported income and assets.
Even so, in December 2019, Angola froze assets belonging to dos Santos totaling more than $1 billion. Then, in February, Portugal froze her bank accounts.
Gathering the Information
As mentioned, the information on dos Santos and her use of tax havens come from the Luanda Leaks from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa, however, was the first to obtain the business records of dos Santos. That organization then shared the information with the ICIJ.
The relevant documents clearly show a connection between dos Santos and shell companies. They include nearly 100 invoices, emails, sewage bills, electricity bills, and property tax assessments related to the Delaware company and Lisbon property.
The apartment in question is a high-rise along Avenida Antonio Augusto de Aguiar, positioning it over the largest shopping mall in Lisbon and directly next to a public park with lush landscape.
A draft contract from July 2012 showed Decade International and dos Santos as the buyers with the sellers being a Maltese company. The sale price on the draft was $1.8 million, but the final details are unknown as the final purchase documents are not in the Luanda Leaks.
The documents also clearly indicate that dos Santos was in charge of Decade International, which paid bills and took care of renovations on the property.
Delaware and the U.S. as a Tax Haven
The United States is growing in popularity as a tax haven. The Tax Justice Network’s financial secrecy index released earlier this year named the United States, the second-most secretive jurisdiction in the world. The Cayman Islands is the only country ahead of it. The United States has a reputation for actively bucking the movement towards improved transparency. Instead, the country increases its secrecy vehicles available.
Within the U.S., Delaware is known to be among those that make it easiest to create a shell company, not just in the United States but also in the world. Owners of these shell companies also receive full anonymity, and if anything, it is moving to become more opaque. Delaware is far from the only state in the country that appeals to obscure shell companies, but it does so to the greatest extent.
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