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The split had been verbally requested by Baptista Sumbe, who was then a top executive at Sonangol, according to SBM documents. Sumbe was also president, chief executive, secretary and treasurer of SII, as well as being the sole signatory for at least one of its bank accounts, according to filings on the Panama corporate register.
This history of bribes to Mardrill had for years been kept a closely held secret, known only to former SBM chief executives and few, if any, others inside SBM, papers in a Swiss court case would later explain.
At that point, having learned that Sumbe was suspected of corruption, the SBM boss could have halted the payment and torn up the contract with SII. The company declined to answer. In a complete new management team took over. The investigation was based on hundreds of pages of confidential files provided by Jonathan Taylor pictured below , a former SBM lawyer turned whistle-blower. The documents include emails, contracts, legal advice and corporate intelligence reports.
Journalists also had access to hours of secret audio recordings of SBM crisis meetings. Taylor has separately passed documents to the Serious Fraud Office and has said he is willing to share the same files with prosecutors in other countries. SBM decided it needed to come up with a justification before handing over the funds — a rationale that could be set out in a formal contract. Whistleblower documents reveal executives explored multiple proposals, consulting with three law firms and hiring corporate intelligence firm Kroll to carry out background checks.
The result was a January contract, signed by Sumbe and Chabas, which, at first glance, appeared to be one of the most polished and scrutinised agreements SBM had contemplated in years.