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Portugal police: Banker in Angola scandal hangs himself

LISBON – A Portuguese banker named in a major Angolan money-laundering and corruption scandal has died in an apparent suicide at his home, police said Thursday.

Nuno Ribeiro da Cunha, named as a suspect by Angolan authorities in an investigation targeting the billionaire daughter of Angola’s former longtime leader, appeared to have hanged himself in the garage of his Lisbon apartment building late Wednesday, a police statement said.

Ribeiro da Cunha was the head of private banking at Lisbon-based EuroBic where Isabel dos Santos, reputedly Africa’s richest woman, holds a majority 42.5% stake. The bank says she now intends to sell her stake.

Angolan authorities suspect Dos Santos embezzled millions of dollars from the country’s state oil company and laundered it through foreign banks.

Ribeiro da Cunha's death occurred hours after Angola’s attorney general, Helder Pitta Gros, speaking in the country's capital Luanda, named him and Dos Santos among five suspects in the investigation. All the suspects are living outside Angola and have business links with Dos Santos, Pitta Gros said.

Pitta Gros arrived Thursday in Portugal to ask his country’s former colonial ruler for help investigating the case which spans several countries in Africa, Europe and the Middle East.

Angolan authorities suspect that Dos Santos embezzled from the state oil company Sonangol, which she once headed. She is suspected of mismanagement at Sonangol and misappropriation of company money.

Four others, all believed to be close to Dos Santos and including , are suspects in the investigation, which was started after Dos Santos' successor at Sonangol alerted authorities. All the suspects are living outside Angola, Pitta Gros said.

One of them, Mario Silva, a Portuguese businessman thought to be Dos Santos' right-hand man, stepped down Thursday as chairman of the board of Banco de Fomento Angola, the Luanda-based bank announced on its website.

Dos Santos has denied any wrongdoing. She has numerous business interests in Portugal, including stakes in telecoms and energy companies. Senior Angolan officials have long made major investments in Portuguese real estate and companies.

Pitta Gros told Portuguese public broadcaster RTP at Lisbon airport he planned to meet with his Portuguese counterpart Lucilia Gago. He said he had traveled to Lisbon “to ask for a lot of things,” but he didn't elaborate. Portuguese officials didn't confirm the meeting.

Chief detective of the Portuguese police, Luis Neves, said preliminary reports indicated Ribeiro da Cunha’s death was suicide and that nobody else was involved. He told reporters his staff are prepared to help with the Angolan investigation whenever a formal request is made.

Last December, a Luanda court froze Dos Santos' major assets, which include banks and a telecom company. The government says it is trying to recover $1.1 billion it says the country is owed by Dos Santos, her husband and a close associate of the couple.

Dos Santos was appointed head of Sonangol by her father, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, before he stepped down in 2017 after 38 years in power. Human rights groups long accused Jose Eduardo dos Santos of heading a kleptocracy which left most people in the oil- and diamond-rich country living in poverty.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists earlier this week accused Isabel dos Santos of using “unscrupulous deals” to build her fortune, estimated at $2 billion.

The allegations were based on more than 715,000 confidential financial and business records provided by the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa, an advocacy group based in Paris, as well as hundreds of interviews. The cache of documents is known as the Luanda Leaks.