How leaked documents show Isabel dos Santos stole her fortune

By: Sam Mukwamu

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Leaked documents on Sunday allege that Isabel dos Santos, Africa’s richest woman and daughter of Angola’s former president, built her wealth through corruption and by exploiting her country. 

The files were initially obtained by the Paris-based anti-corruption charity Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF), which shared them with the New York-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which then publicly released the documents.

The more than 700,000 leaked documents, dubbed the “Luanda Leaks,” include emails, invoices, slide presentations and contracts that show how during her father’s 38-year rule, dos Santos and her husband, art collector Sindika Dokolo, amassed a fortune of more than $2 billion through their stakes in Angolan industries like telecommunications, diamonds and construction. 

The leaks offer details of how those holdings came about, including presidential decrees from her father, from which she benefitted, and the formation of a network of offshore companies. Over decades, these offshore companies got consulting jobs, loans, public works contracts and licenses worth billions of dollars from the Angolan government.

The ICIJ report also highlighted that “a cadre of Western business advisers moved money, set up companies, audited accounts and suggested ways to avoid taxes” and turned a blind eye to red flags. It includes Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey and PwC.

The leaked documents also show that in Nov. 2017, dos Santos had had tens of millions of dollars transferred from Angola’s state oil company, Sonangol, into the bank account of a Dubai-based company owned by one of her associates. Dos Santos had been appointed head of Sonangol in 2016, thanks to a presidential decree from her father, Jose Eduardo dos Santos. 

Hours after being fired by Angola’s new president, Isabel dos Santos authorised the transfer of $38 million from Sonangol. These transfers drained Sonangol’s account at EuroBic, a Lisbon-based bank where Isabel dos Santos holds a 42.5 percent stake.

After the release of the Luanda Leaks, EuroBic said on Monday that it had decided to “terminate the commercial relationship with entities controlled by the universe of the shareholder Isabel dos Santos and people closely related to it.” EuroBic said it would audit the Nov. 2017 transfers and report its findings to Portugal’s central bank.

Isabel Dos Santos denounced the ICIJ investigation in string of tweets on Sunday, claiming that it was a part of a campaign by the Angolan government to discredit her. “The ICIJ report is based on many fake documents and false information, it is a coordinated political attack in coordinations with the ‘Angolan Government,’” she tweeted. “715 thousand documents read? Who believes that?”

On Monday, Angolan authorities vowed to use “all possible” means to bring the billionaire back to Angola. Helder Pitra Gros, Angola’s prosecutor general said, “We will use all possible means and activate international mechanisms to bring Isabel dos Santos back to the country.”

“We have asked for international support from Portugal, Dubai and other countries,” he added.

Angola removing dos Santos influence

Since replacing Jose Eduardo dos Santos as president, Joao Lourenco has vowed to stamp out corruption, and has focused on the dos Santos family, firing Isabel as chair of Sonangol and removing her half-brother, José Filomeno, as head of the country’s sovereign wealth fund.

In Dec. 2019 José Filomeno dos Santos was arrested and is currently on trial in Angola on charges of corruption.

On Dec. 31, Angolan courts ordered the freezing of Isabel dos Santos’ local bank accounts, following investigations into alleged corruption by the Dos Santos family which prosecutors say has robbed the state of more than $2 billion. Dos Santos denied the charges against her, saying they are “politically motivated.” 

She said: “These are false allegations and this is part of … an orchestrated attack by the current government that is completely politically motivated.”

Dos Santos’ hints at presidency run

Last week Isabel dos Santos hinted that she would run for the Angolan presidency.

The 46-year-old billionaire had stressed that her life would be at risk if she were to return to Angola. Despite this, Isabel dos Santos did not rule out the possibility of running for president, mentioning that she has a strong sense of patriotism and duty to her country. “To lead is to serve, so I will do whatever my life takes me,” she said

Isabel Dos Santos also told a Portuguese television channel that “it’s possible” she might run for the presidency in 2022.