'Africa's richest woman' told to return to Angola over 'Dubai corruption' allegations

'Africa's richest woman' told to return to Angola over 'Dubai corruption' allegations
Isabel dos Santos fled Angola for the UK following corruption allegations that include money laundering and fraud when she was head of state oil company Sonangol.
6 min read
20 January, 2020
Isabel is facing accusations of corruption [Getty]

Angola prosecutor has said disgraced businesswoman Isabel dos Santos needs to return to the country after she fled to the UK following accusations of corruption in a global case that includes Dubai.

"We will use all possible means and activate international mechanisms to bring Isabel dos Santos back to the country," prosecutor general Helder Pitra Gros told public radio.

Isabel dos Santos, daughter of Angola's former president is a British-educated billionaire businesswoman faces allegations of plundering the public purse and funneling the money abroad while she headed state's oil company Sonangol - accusations she vehemently denies.

Lawyers representing dos Santos said the businesswoman denied all wrongdoing, including any allegations of looting, fraud, contract overcharging and other misconduct.

Just under a decade ago, she became Africa's richest woman, after Forbes magazine named her the continent's first female billionaire in 2013.

The prosecutor's remarks came after a trove of 715,000 files dubbed the "Luanda Leaks" was released at the weekend and accused the eldest daughter of former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos of funneling state funds from the oil-rich country into overseas assets.

An in-depth investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) into the dealings of Santos whilst she headed Angola’s giant state oil company, Sonangol Group found that her accumulated wealth, which she attributed to hard work, may have been the result of "two decades of unscrupulous deals that made dos Santos Africa’s wealthiest woman…and left Angola one of the poorest countries on Earth".

Since her father left office in 2017, her investments in Angola and former colonial ruler Portugal, worth about $3 billion, according to Forbes magazine - are now the subject of scrutiny.

Nicknamed "the princess", she is accused of amassing her vast fortune thanks to the backing of her authoritarian father who ruled the country for nearly 40 years from 1979.

Angolan government officials told ICIJ that they are investigating whether dos Santos and her associates "looted hundreds of millions of dollars from the state's oil and diamond-trading companies, including a $38million payment in November 2017 from Sonangal to a company in Dubai controlled by a dos Santos associate" transferred mere hours after Angola’s new president fired her from her job as head of the state oil company.

Isabel has many high profile friends [Getty]

The 46-year-old dos Santos has vehemently denied the allegations and accused President Joao Lourenco, her father's successor in Luanda, of a political "witchhunt".

"This is a political trial. You have a persecuting state and servile and partisan magistrates. Then you have a woman who has been chosen to set an example as a scapegoat. That’s me," Isabel dos Santos told Reuters, speaking in London, which she has been claiming as her main residence.

The prosecutor general said "it was quite a coincidence that she received our (investigation) notification during the day and at night she left the country".

He did not specify when exactly she left the country.

"We have asked for international support from Portugal, Dubai, and other countries," he said.

Dos Santos' husband, Sindika Dokolo told Radio France Internationale that the government was wrongfully targeting him and his wife.

"They want to blame us for all the corruption and bankruptcy in Angola," Dokolo said. "We pay taxes in Europe, and we’re Angola’s biggest tax contributor. We've worked and invested a lot in this country, more than many others."

Dubai link

Dos Santos has a home at the Bulgari Resorts, a high-end complex located on a private island in the Jumeirah Bay area, and in 2017 a consulting firm with ties to dos Santos was located in Dubai's Jumeirah Lakes Towers.

It was called Ironsea Consulting and was later renamed Matter Business Solutions.

Leaked documents show that when she left Sonangol, dos Santos approved $58million of suspicious payments to Matter Business Solutions – though she claims she has no financial interest in the company.

The documents revealed that it was run by her business partner and owned by a friend, and BBC Panorama claims Matter sent more than 50 invoices to Sonangol the day she was fired. Dos Santos approved payments after she was sacked, including €472,196 for unspecified expenses - another for $928,517 for unspecified legal services.

Matter Business Solutions lawyers claim the company was bought in to restructure the oil industry in Angola.

"Regarding the invoices related with expenses, it is common for consultancy companies to add expenses to invoices as a general item. This is often due to those expenses involving large amounts of paperwork... Matter can produce documentary evidence to confirm all expenses incurred."

Rich woman, poor country  

Dos Santos’ holdings in Angola include private banks, telecoms firm Unitel, a supermarket chain, a cement company and cable television in a multi-billion dollar financial empire that is at odds with the state of the country, which has some of the most poverty-stricken communities in the world.

Millions live without adequate sanitation housing or food, and according to the World Bank, two-thirds of the country’s population survive on less than $2 a day.

Despite economic success thanks to its vast oil reserves, the majority of Angolans live in extreme poverty, and the reason for such disparity is due, in part to corruption.

In Portugal she owns seven percent of the oil and gas giant Galp Energia, and has major bank stakes there.

Dos Santos moved from London to Angola in 1992 when her father secured a brief civil war truce with the rebel UNITA movement.

After being appointed chair of the state-owned company, she argues that her fortune was built on her “character.”

"My fortune is built on my character, my intelligence, education, capacity for work, perseverance," she wrote on Twitter on Sunday night.

She further tweeted that the ICIJ report was based on "many fake documents and false information" describing it as a "coordinated political attack" led by the Angolan government.

Angola's prosecutors last month froze the bank accounts and assets she and her Congolese husband Sindika Dokolo own, a move she described as a groundless political vendetta.

Both Isabel and her husband are implicated [Getty]

Humble claims

Born in Baku, Azerbaijan in 1973 where her father met her mother while studying, her family returned to Angola soon afterwards.

She said she had an ordinary childhood, walking to school -- and selling chicken eggs for profit -- even after her father became president in 1979 as the country descended into a long and bloody civil war.

When her parents separated, she moved with her mother to London, attending an elite private school and then taking a mechanical and electrical engineering degree at King's College

She said she lived in basic student accommodation in London, and worked so hard that she had little time to party, especially with parents that she remembers being "very demanding".

Dos Santos moved from London to Angola in 1992 she moved to Angola after her father secured a brief civil war truce with the rebel UNITA movement.

Her first business venture was three years later when she opened Miami Beach restaurant in the capital Luanda, aged just 24.

Until recently, she rarely gave media interviews and made only occasional appearances in public however following corruption allegations around her finances, the dos Santos has spoken to numerous publications in an effort to defend herself.

Before her father stepped down, she was viewed as his possible successor.

Dos Santos emerged as a serious presidential candidate in June 2016 when she was appointed head of the state oil firm Sonangol, the prime generator of Angola's wealth.

But the new president forced her out of the job within months of coming to power.

Recently she told the Portuguese state broadcaster Radio e Televisao de Portugal (RTP) that she would consider running for president in the next election in 2022.

She left Luanda shortly after she was deposed from Sonangol and now lives between Lisbon and London.

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