Isabel dos Santos, Africa’s richest woman, past Chairperson of Sonangol and daughter of Angola’s former President, José Eduardo dos Santos is an astute businesswoman who held significant economic positions in her father’s political regime. Her father ruled the country for 38 years in Oligarchy before handing over power in 2017 to President Joao Lorenco.
However, on taking over political power in 2017 from long-standing President Dos Santos, the new President, Joao Lourenco dismissed Dos Santos’s son, Jose Filomeno de Sousa dos Santos, as the Chairman of Fundo Soberano de Angola, the country’s sovereign wealth fund. He also sacked Isabel as chair of the state-owned oil company, Sonangol.
Lorenco’s government is also making efforts to erase the influence of the ex-first family, recover lost assets and privatise state-owned firms while fighting agelong corruption and nepotism.
On Monday the 16th of December 2019, Angola’s Justice Minister, Francisco Queiroz, made an announcement that the country has recovered over $5 billion in stolen assets from state coffers, both at home and abroad.
According to Queiroz, $3 billion from the recovered money was stolen from the country’s sovereign wealth fund on grounds of corruption and money laundering. Given the fact that the past chairperson of the fund was a Dos Santos, this could be seen as a further effort by the government to address the issue of corruption that it associates with the family.
Queiroz also stated his position that siphoned funds should be returned to the country from where they were withdrawn.
In a further statement, the minister said, “we have argued insistently that these important resources should be returned unconditionally to the countries from which they were illegally withdrawn in order to be used to improve the quality of life of our populations.” He also added that some countries could do more to help.
Also, the Angolan government issued an order from its Luanda court to the Bank of Portugal, requesting them to begin to evaluate the suitability of Isabel Dos Santos as a shareholder in Portuguese banks. The move was aimed by the government to recover its stolen assets abroad.
The Luanda court document dated December 23 had ordered an asset freeze of the personal bank accounts of Dos Santos, her husband Sindika Dokolo and Mario da Silva Leite in Angola as well as stakes they hold in nine Angolan firms after the government accused them of causing the state losses of over $1 billion.
A statement by the Bank of Portugal in an email to Reuters news agency stated that the bank is “considering all the newly available information which could be relevant for the evaluation of her suitability as a shareholder of the institutions” which it supervises. On the other hand, the Chairman of Banco de Fomento Angola (BFA) bank, Mario Da Silva, has not publicly made any statement.
However, Dos Santos and her husband have refuted the allegations levied against them, stating that they were “politically motivated”.
She described the charges against her and her family as a “politically motivated witch-hunt”. Speaking to the Financial Times on Sunday the 12th, she said she was preparing a legal challenge against President Lourenco’s attempts to dismantle her businesses and “erase the legacy” of the 38-year term of her father.
This event was followed by the government seizing Isabel’s domestic assets on the 31st of December, 2019, accusing her and her husband of steering payments of over $1 billion from state oil company Sonangol and official diamond trading group, Sodiam to companies where they hold stakes.
In a recent twist of events, the Angolan courts refrained from the chase to seize her foreign assets. According to the Launda court, the assets that have been seized are those under the jurisdiction of the court. They claimed to not have taken any action in other countries with whom they have judiciary cooperation, but if necessary will not hesitate to resort to the mechanisms.
The judiciary also noted that asset freeze pertaining to dos Santos, her husband Sindika Dokolo and associate Mario da Silva will not be treated as a corruption allegation because it is a civil matter about debts to the state, the spokesman added.
In 2016, she was controversially appointed the head of Angola’s State-owned oil firm Sonangol by her father. This appointment created a lot of controversy around her person. While some indigenous media outlets have classified the billionaire as pampered and fortunate to have all the good things of life, Isabel sees herself as a businesswoman who believes strongly that business is in her DNA.
“My DNA is business. Business is my passion and what I’ve been doing all my life. I believe in a market economy with a strong social responsibility in order to improve the situation of the Angolan middle class, and eradicate poverty,” a January 10th tweet by Isabel reads.
Isabel Dos Santos holds significant shares in several Portugues firms plus a 42.5 percent stake in Eurobic bank. She also has stakes in telecoms, engineering companies and Angola’s oil and gas company. She is worth is $2.2 billion.
Angola has registered significant progress on various fronts since 2018, as its political and civil rights environment became less restrictive, and the courts appeared to operate without political interference. The scale-up of corruption and mismanagement in the country have been more in the extractive industries. The government of President Lourenco introduced important reforms in the country, especially with regard to revenue and budget transparency which had led to the crackdown of corruption in the nation.
Angola is Africa’s second-biggest oil-exporting country. Its economy depends on oil for 90 percent of its exports while oil contributes one-third of its GDP.