Every year, Forbes Magazine releases a list of Africa’s richest people including Africa’s richest woman — and we celebrate them. In recent years, one name that has topped that chart is Isabela dos Santos. However, recent revelations, ‘Luanda Leaks’, show that her wealth may not be from hard work. Isabel is worth around $2.1 billion and she insists her wealth is legal through skill and industry. Consequently, she is accusing President João Lourenço of a politically-motivated witch hunt. Who is telling the truth?
The 46-year-old Africa’s richest woman is the eldest daughter of the former president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos. Jose Eduardo ruled the oil-rich nation for 38 years, stepping aside in 2017. A recent publication, ‘Luanda Leaks’, by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) shows how her father helped her to build her fortune. This includes awarding public contracts to her companies, telecom license, tax breaks, and diamond mining rights. However, she has denied the allegations saying,
“This is an orchestrated and well-coordinated political attack by the current regime in Angola, which sees me as a threat”.
Luanda Leaks was only the beginning of the woes of Africa’s richest woman. Since the release of the 715,000 documents indicting Isabel dos Santos, President Lourenço has remained silent. However, in a recent exclusive with DW, the president said,
“He stayed in power for almost 40 years. We were all part of the system. It is precisely because I have seen these high levels of corruption—and because I think that situation shouldn’t continue—that we are fighting what we have seen for decades. We now have got a chance for change. And this is the right time to do it.”
Luanda Leaks Expose Saints and Sinners
President Lourenço decided to go after the Dos Santos family and their cronies to rid the country of corruption. However, there are still questions about his motives. On her part, Isabela said the president sees her as a political threat. This was because she had declared her interest to run for president. Some section of the public also thinks Lourenço is only after Africa’s richest woman as a way of bolstering his own fragile political image.
It is still unclear if President Lourenço is really cleaning the nation of corruption as a foundation for rebuilding the economy or he is just creating a space for his own cronies. Speaking to the Institute for Security Studies, the head of the Africa Programme at Chatham House, Alex Vines said,
“There are folk around the president that deserve judicial scrutiny and Isabel is correct that there is an arbitrary element to these actions. Over the last year, as his honeymoon has thinned out, there are also signs that JLo is becoming more reliant on family – especially his brother General Sequeira João Lourenço.”
According to a report on The Guardian, there was a day in November 2017 when Isabela allegedly arranged for the transfer of $57 million from Sonangol’s bank account to a company in Dubai, Matter Business Solutions. Paula Oliveira runs the company. However, sources say Oliveira is a close friend of Isabela. Subsequent investigations show that the bank account of the transfer was a EuroBic account. In response, EuroBic said the transfer, “respected the legal and regulatory procedures formally applicable . . . between this bank and Sonangol, namely those related to the prevention of money laundering.”
The Fall of Africa’s Richest Woman
Prosecutors are accusing Isabela dos Santos of money laundering and embezzlement. Consequently, Attorney General Helder Pitta Gros is calling on Africa’s richest woman to return to the country and face the charges. According to prosecutors, Isabela and her associates owe the state $1bn. Mr. Pitta Gross in a news conference said,
“Isabel dos Santos is accused of mismanagement and embezzlement of funds during her tenure at Sonangol. money laundering, influence peddling, harmful management… forgery of documents, among other economic crimes”.
Portugal has ordered the freezing of her bank accounts in the country. Also, in December 2019, a court in Luanda ordered a freeze on all her accounts. Following her disengagement as the head of the state oil company, Sonangol in 2017, Isabela has been living in the UK. Isabela owns a 42.5% stake in EuroBic, a bank in Lisbon. Consequently, the bank issued a statement that they were ending their business relationship with her. Subsequently, the bank announced that Isabela has decided to sell her stake in the bank. According to Forbes, Isabela’s 42.5% stake is worth around $200 million in cash.
There has been a chain of events following the discovery. The BBC recently reported that 45-year-old Nuno Ribeiro da Cunha was found dead in Lisbon. He was an employee with EuroBic and managed Sonangol’s account. According to a police source, all evidence points to suicide. The big question now is will other European countries housing Isabela’s wealth give them up? Feel free to share your views using the comment box below.