Ana Maria Luca

Out of Africa

When 30-year-old Ali accepted to move to Luanda, Angola, a year ago to work in a mall belonging to a Lebanese company based in the country, he didn’t think of terrorism, money laundering, US Treasury blacklists or the Angolan police. He was recruited by a company called Arosfran, which is owned by the Tajideen family, and would join around 300 other people from South Lebanon already working in Luanda.  But two days ago, everything changed.

The Angolan government deported 16 Lebanese nationals working for the Tajideen family’s holding company and issued arrest warrants for four members of the family because of their links to Hezbollah, according to Freitas Neto, the director of Migration and Foreigner Services in the Angolan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. One of the four arrested Lebanese citizens was Ali Tajideen, owner of Arosfran and former Hezbollah military commander in Tyre.

“These foreigners were expelled from Angola because of their illegal status and for money laundering and for terrorism," said Neto, adding that the four arrested Lebanese “will be banned from the country for more than 20 years.” NOW Lebanon could not reach the Angolan Ministry of Foreign Affairs for more details.

The Tajideens’ troubles with the Angolan authorities did not come as a surprise, neither for the family nor for their employees.

“The Angolan authorities forced Tajideen to sell his company,” an employee of Arosfran told NOW Lebanon on condition of anonymity. “The Tajideens tried to negotiate some deal with the government, maybe a partnership, but the government would not allow it. The Tajideens sold the company five or six months ago to government proxies. The new general manager is French, and the assistant general manager is Angolan,” he added.

The Tajideen brothers own a network of companies in several African countries, including Angola, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Gambia.  Ali Tajideen is also in charge of the Jihad al-Bina construction company in South Lebanon. His brother Hussein funds Ali’s activities from Gambia, while another brother, Ahmed, is handling Congo Futur group in the DRC.

In Angola, they also own Golfrate Holding with five companies, including Golfrate Africa, Golfrate Distribution, Golfrate Food Industries, Arosfran—which is the main income source, according to employees—as well as AfriBelg.

The Angolan police started investigations at the beginning of 2011, when they received a notification from the United States Department of Treasury blacklisting Ali and Hussein Tajideen for providing financial support to Hezbollah, which the US deemed a terrorist organization in 1999. Another Tajideen brother, Kassim, was blacklisted by the US Treasury in 2009, and according to the Congolese and Angolan press, he passed away this summer, though the rumors could not be verified.

According to a US Department of Treasury press release, Kassim Tajideen is an important financial contributor to Hezbollah and operates a network of businesses in Lebanon and Africa. He contributed tens of millions of dollars to the Party of God through his brother Ali.

“Since at least December 2007, Ali Tajideen used [Gambia-based] Tajco Sarl, operating as Tajco Company LLC, as the primary entity to purchase and develop properties in Lebanon on behalf of Hezbollah.  Under the name of Tajco Company LLC, Ali Tajideen developed the properties, established mortgage loans and acquired mortgage-life insurance to cover the mortgage borrowers,” the press release said.

The Department of Treasury announced last December that it was freezing any assets the Lebanese traders had under US jurisdiction and prohibited Americans from engaging in any transactions with them. But the move was not limited to US territory.

The notification reached the US Embassy in Angola, and the Angolan authorities launched their own investigation into the Tajideens’ companies, but they mainly targeted Arosfran.  Pressured by the US, the Angolan Ministry of Interior formed a Financial Information Unit to deal with all the suspicious transactions and alleged money-laundering operations in the country. The African Investment Bank announced in January 2011 that it blocked the accounts of three companies—Arosfran, Afribelg and Golfrate—following the US referencing them as Hezbollah donors.

The Angolan authorities’ move came at a sensitive time for diplomatic relations with the US. The Bank of America, Merrill Lynch and HSBC had frozen the accounts of the Angolan Embassy and consular offices as well as 25 other African diplomatic services in the US for undisclosed reasons. The Angolan Embassy had to cancel its 35th Independence Day celebration because it couldn’t access the funds. When the news about the three Lebanese companies in Angola reached Luanda, the government was eager to comply with US demands.

“The authorities have not closed down all their businesses yet—they still have factories, they have land there, some contracting businesses, they build villas, and they also have a hotel—and it looks like they are in the process of closing them down too,” the Tajideen employee said. “What we know for sure is that Kassim Tajideen, owner of the company, has been deported. He is no longer in Angola, and his family is also gone. But he has his nephew there still, managing what’s left of his business. But the main company there, Arosfram, is closed now,” he added. 

The Tajideens don’t only have a bad reputation in the US. In May 2003, following a four-month international investigation led by Belgium’s Economic Crimes Unit, the country’s judicial police raided the Antwerp offices of Kassim Tajideen’s company Soafrimex, which specialized in exporting food to African countries. He was arrested with his wife, Huda Saad, and several company officials for fraud, money laundering and diamond smuggling. He and his wife were accused by the Belgian authorities of “large-scale tax fraud, money laundering and trade in diamonds of doubtful origin, to the value of tens of millions of Euros.”

Tajideen was released from jail on $150,000 bail. Although the Belgian police had found clear evidence of fraud and possible use of conflict diamonds as a means of payments and money laundering, he was never charged.

Nadine Elali contributed reporting to the article.