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Ex-GE Angola Executive Charged With Fraud by US Over $1.1 Billion Angolan Project

Indictment unsealed against Wilson Daniel Freita Da Costa Da Costa arrested at LAX trying to sell 20 kilograms of gold

By Ava Benny-Morrison and Chris Dolmetsch

December 15, 2023 at 3:00 PM EST

A former General Electric Co. executive has been charged with fraud over allegations that he used forged documents to coax the government of Angola into terminating contracts with another company for a $1.1 billion power and water project.

Wilson Daniel Freita Da Costa appeared in federal court in Manhattan on Wednesday after a four-count indictment was unsealed charging him with fraud and identity theft. The former GE employee, whom his lawyer and prosecutors described as a senior executive, was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport after traveling to the US to sell 20 kilograms of gold in October.

His arrest follows a long-running dispute between GE and a Portuguese-owned infrastructure firm, Aenergy SA, that leveled allegations of reckless conduct and a coverup against the American corporation. Da Costa, 50, is accused of doctoring documents from the government of Angola as part of a scheme to cut Aenergy out of a deal and paper over an accounting disparity.

Assistant US Attorney Jennifer Ong said in court that there were other facets of the investigation that “have not yet been charged.”

Da Costa’s attorney Maurice Sercarz said that his client has “every intention of defending these charges.”

A spokesperson for GE said the company was disturbed by the alleged actions of the former employee and had cooperated with the Justice Department.

“GE is deeply committed to integrity, compliance, and the rule of law in every country in which we operate,” the spokesperson said. “These claims concern unauthorized alleged actions made in 2017 by a former employee engaging in a scheme to forge documents.”

Paper Trail

Federal prosecutors allege the fake document saga destroyed Aenergy and cost it hundreds of millions of dollars in potential contracts with GE and other companies. The government pointed to a paper trial connecting Da Costa to the fake documents, including four emails sent to Aenergy and GE.

Da Costa worked for GE until 2019 in what the company described as a sales role. Before his arrest, he lived in Portugal and earned about $30,000 a month, with business ties in Angola, Cameroon and the UAE, according to a report referenced in court.

Da Costa’s attorney offered a $2.5 million security and the relocation of Da Costa’s wife and child to New York from Portugal in an attempt to secure bail. But US District Judge P. Kevin Castel ruled against him after hearing arguments from the prosecution about Da Costa’s connection to “high-ranking government officials” and inconsistencies in his statements to the US government.

Aenergy has filed multiple lawsuits against GE in a bid to hold the company responsible for the fallout of the Angola deal. The dispute centers around financing for a power and water project in the southern African nation and the sale of a dozen wind turbines.

According to a lawsuit filed in 2022, GE agreed to supply the company turbines and to extend a $1.1 billion credit facility to the Angolan government to finance Aenergy’s pipeline of projects. The deal fell apart, Aenergy said, when GE manipulated its turbine sales to prop up its revenue figures.

Photoshopping Documents

The US accuses Da Costa of photoshopping documents purportedly from government officials in Angola as part of the scheme between 2017 and 2019. The documents would help cover up a discrepancy between the turbines Aenergy had agreed to buy from GE and the number it was contracted to sell to Angola.

At the same time, according to the suit, GE legal and accounting teams were investigating how accurately the turbine sales were reflected on the company’s books. The Angolan government terminated contracts with Aenergy and proposed transferring the work directly to GE. The lawsuit, in federal court in Connecticut, was dismissed subject to GE agreeing to litigate the case in Angola.

In court on Wednesday, Sercarz suggested it was Aenergy that had the incentive to paper over the disparity.

Da Costa is next due to appear in court in March.

— With assistance from Ryan Beene

 

Link to the article – Bloomberg