The dissemination of a large number of confidential documents has raised great suspicions about the legality of the fortune of Isabel dos Santos, daughter of the former President of Angola.
On Monday, several international media published the results of a survey of a large number of confidential documents that suggest suspicions about the legality of the heritage of Isabel dos Santos, the richest woman in Africa, daughter of former Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos, who remained in power for almost 40 years between the late 1970s and 2017. Isabel dos Santos has a fortune of over two billion dollars, according to Forbes, and owns luxury real estate properties halfway around the world. But above all, she is the head of a conglomerate with interests in a great many sectors, and which, according to documents read by the international media, have been acquired over the years thanks to opaque operations, made possible by her proximity to the presidency of Angola.
Dos Santos is 46 years old and was born in Baku, Azerbaijan, the country where her father was sent to study engineering in Soviet schools by the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola, the pro-communist party of which she was a member. Her father met there her mother, Russian chess champion Tatiana Kukanova, with whom she returned to Africa after Angola’s independence from Portugal in 1975. Within a few years, dos Santos climbed the party hierarchy and became president in 1979.
Dos Santos, however, grew up in London, where she had moved with her mother after the separation of her parents. She attended an excellent school for girls and then studied engineering at King’s College. She worked for a couple of years at Coopers & Lybrand, a consulting and auditing firm now known as PwC, and finally returned to Angola in the 1990s when the foundations were laid for the end of the civil war that had been going on since the 1970s, and which would not formally end until 2002.
José dos Santos with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2009. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
It was at that time that dos Santos made his first fortunes, all while his father was president of the country. He began with a management position for a street cleaning company in Luanda, the capital of the country, but soon set up his own transport company. Her experience in managing vehicle-to-vehicle communications-enabled her to enter the mobile telecommunications industry early on: today she denies that being the country’s president’s eldest daughter played a role in the award of a major government contract by a consortium of companies of which she was a member. In the following years, he bought a quarter of Unitel, which today is the leading telephone operator in the country.
In recent months the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, an organization that brings together media from around the world specializing in investigative journalism, has received over 700,000 documents on the business and assets of dos Santos, which have been called “Luanda leaks”. They reveal that his empire consists of over 400 companies and has luxury properties in some of the world’s most prestigious places, from a $55 million house in Monaco to a private island in Dubai to a 35 million yacht.
But most importantly, the documents show, according to the journalists who studied them, that dos Santos built his fortune through corruption and exploitation of Angola’s state resources. From 2016 to 2017 she was president of Sonangol, the Angolan national oil company, by appointment of her father. A judicial investigation into her role in the company was recently opened in Angola, in particular with regard to the $38 million paid by the company a few hours after the dismissal of dos Santos, decided in 2017 by his father’s successor president. That money, according to prosecutors, went to a company in Dubai called Matter Business Solutions DMCC, owned by a close associate of dos Santos. Months after his dismissal, dos Santos’ successor claimed that there had been another $135 million in consulting fees paid to the Dubai company.
The newspapers told a similar story about the diamond industry. In 2012, dos Santos’ husband – art collector Sindika Dokolo – signed an agreement with the Angolan national diamond mining company to acquire the Swiss luxury jewelry company De Grisogono. The agreement provided for the division in half, but a year and a half after the transaction the state company had paid about $79 million, Dokolo only $4 million, less than the premium it had received from the same company for concluding the deal. According to Bravo da Rosa, the new head of the diamond company, the total losses were around $200 million, without the Angolan taxpayers having to pay it back.
Last month the couple’s assets in Angola were frozen by the authorities for the ongoing investigation into the operation. According to the national prosecutor, the activities of dos Sant
The New York Times said that the documents show how the big international banks such as Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, and Banco Santander have refused in recent years to have dos Santos as a client, which instead has long collaborated with some of the world’s largest financial consulting firms such as Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey & Company, and PwC. According to some money laundering experts and accountants contacted by the New York Times, however, there were “obvious warning signs” that state funds used illegally were involved in dos Santos’ business.
In an interview with the BBC, dos Santos dismissed the accusations, calling the judicial investigation against him “political persecution” and arguing that his activities are entirely financed by the private sector. Dokolo accused the new government of using him and his wife as scapegoats. Dos Santos also has many admirers and supporters, who have confirmed his entrepreneurial skills in recent weeks.
Angola is one of the states with the highest gross domestic product in Africa, and with a relatively high average, per capita GDP compared to other sub-Saharan countries. But it is a value that hides the deep social inequalities of the country, where 30% of the population lives below the poverty line.
Dos Santos is not the only one in the family who has problems with the law: her half-sister was expelled from parliament last year, accused of excessive absenteeism, while her half-brother José Filomeno dos Santos is on trial for corruption. Since 2017, the father of dos Santos, currently very ill and hospitalized in Barcelona, had resigned and was succeeded by João Lourenço, a party comrade whose anti-corruption campaign against the family of his predecessor surprised many observers.