How Angola’s Isabel dos Santos stole a fortune: ICIJ documents

Businesswoman and daughter of ex-president dismisses Luanda Leaks as ‘witch-hunt’ meant to discredit her and her father.

Isabel dos Santos, Africa’s richest woman and daughter of Angola’s former president, allegedly siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars of public money into offshore accounts, according to leaked documents.

On Monday, however, dos Santos vehemently denied any wrongdoing in an interview with Al Jazeera, calling the leak “a concentrated attack, a political attack” against her.  

Released on Sunday, the so-called Luanda Leaks are based on a trove of more than 715,000 emails, charts, contracts, audits and accounts obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and shared with media organisations.

The businesswoman – whose father, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, ruled oil-rich Angola for almost 40 years until he stood down in 2017 – vehemently dismissed the claims. The 46-year-old billionaire has long denied that her business success is the result of nepotism and corruption.

Isabel dos Santos exclusive interview with Al Jazeera

But the New York-based ICIJ said its findings highlight “a broken international regulatory system that allows professional services firms to serve the powerful with almost no questions asked”.

“Our investigation, which took eight months and more than 100 journalists to complete, found that dos Santos, aided by her cadre of Western advisers, funnelled hundreds of millions of dollars into offshore shell companies and from there into all kinds of assets, including luxury homes and big businesses,” the ICIJ’s Ben Hallman told Al Jazeera.

‘Well-coordinated attack

Dos Santos, whose business empire stretches from telecommunications to banking to construction, was appointed head of Sonangol, Angola’s state oil company, in 2016.

But she was forced out the following year, in one of the first acts undertaken by Joao Lourenco, who succeeded her father after 38 years in power.

Angola’s prosecutors last month froze bank accounts and assets owned by dos Santos and her Congolese husband, Sindika Dokolo, a move she described as a groundless political vendetta.

“This is a very concentrated attack. It is an attack that has been very well coordinated. It’s an attack coordinated with foreign media that is working with the Angolan authorities to create a false perception of my business,” dos Santos told Al Jazeera.

Angola’s prosecutor general on Monday vowed to bring dos Santos back to Angola.

“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.

Dos Santos left Luanda after her father’s successor came to power in 2017, and now moves mostly between Lisbon and London.

Angolan businesswoman Isabel dos Santos visits the new started EFACEC Portuguese corporation's electric mobility industrial unit on February 5, 2018 in Maia. - Elder daughter of Angola's long reining
Isabel dos Santos was appointed head of Sonangol, Angola’s state oil company, in 2016 [Miguel Riopa/AFP]  

The former president’s son, Jose Filomeno dos Santos, who is Isabel’s half-brother, went on trial in early December for alleged corruption.

Dos Santos – whose net worth last year was estimated by Forbes magazine at $2.2bn – accused the media of spreading “lies”. She has said she is considering running for president in Angola’s 2022 election.

She defended her business dealings and said her efforts helped her country economically. 

“I have built over 10 commercial companies in Angola. Companies in retail – so supermarkets, cinemas, shopping malls, media and telecoms … I have over 20,000 employees … I am one of Angola’s largest taxpayers … This is a politically motivated attack,” she said.

‘Red flags’

The ICIJ investigation said Western consulting firms such as PwC and Boston Consulting Group were “apparently ignoring red flags” while helping her stash away public assets.

“Regulators around the globe have virtually ignored the key role Western professionals play in maintaining an offshore industry that drives money laundering and drains trillions from public coffers,” the report said.

The document trove included redacted letters allegedly showing how consultants sought ways to open non-transparent bank accounts.

None of the companies named in the documents issued an immediate statement in response to the investigation.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies