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Swiss diamond jeweler at heart of Angolan scandal goes bankrupt

Jan 30. 2020
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By Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Corinne Gretler, Hugo Miller 

The Genevan jeweler De Grisogono, known for extravagant diamond jewelry worn by the likes of Paris Hilton, filed for bankruptcy, ensnared in a corruption probe involving Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of Angola's former president.

De Grisogono couldn't secure a buyer despite talks that lasted several months, the company said in a statement on Wednesday. The failed negotiations forced the company to file for creditor protection with Swiss authorities, which if accepted, will affect 65 jobs in the nation, the company said.

The move comes a week after a consortium of global media reported that De Grisogono was propped up with nearly $150 million in loans from Angolan entities to pay off the struggling company's debts and expenses. The reports, based on the so-called Luanda Leaks, said dos Santos' husband, Sindika Dokolo, and the Angolan state diamond firm Sodiam in 2012 formed a Malta-based company to buy a stake in the brand.

Angola's prosecutor general on January 22 named Dos Santos as a suspect in an investigation into alleged mismanagement during her 18-month stint as chairwoman of state-owned oil company Sonangol. An Angolan court separately froze her local assets and those of her husband, as prosecutors alleged that they engaged in illicit transactions with state-owned companies that cost the government $1.14 billion.

Dos Santos has said the news stories about her are part of a political witch hunt to discredit her and that she made her fortune as a self-made businesswoman.

A spokesman for de Grisogono didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the allegations against the jeweler's shareholders or on the exact nature of the company's ownership structure. Sodiam said in 2017 it would divest its stake in De Grisogono "for reasons of public interest and legality."

"Without financial support from current shareholders, and without a buyer, the solvency of the company is now in question, making the continuation of the business impossible," De Grisogono said in the statement.

The company was founded in the 1990s by former Bulgari executive Fawaz Gruosi with just 16,000 Swiss francs (about $12,000) and a mission to sell black-diamond jewelry. De Grisogono, whose pieces have been worn by Naomi Campbell and Salma Hayek, has combined uncommonly used semi-precious stones such as rubellite and tourmalene with diamonds, sapphires and rubies.

 

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