How Isabel Dos Santos’ fight started
For a long time, she thought she was protected by her surname. But since the retirement of her father’s presidency, the billionaire Isabel dos Santos has become a target, accused of having built her empire by plundering Angola’s resources.
Already hounded by the justice of her country, the daughter of Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who reigned without sharing on the country for nearly forty years (1979-2017) is found since Sunday in the middle of a new scandal. After having examined more than 700.000 documents hacked in one of his companies, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) accuses him of having embezzled billions from the coffers of Angola, one of the poorest countries in the world.
The 46-year-old woman known to her compatriots as the “Princess” has denied this, shouting “lies” and “conspiracy”. Since her very first investment in a luxury bar-restaurant in the capital Luanda, the origin of Isabel dos Santos’ fortune has always been controversial.
Her father’s rivals and many observers see it as a symbol of the nepotism of the dos Santos regime. In a confidential telegram dated December 7, 2009, revealed by WikiLeaks, the U.S. Embassy in Luanda stated that Isabel owed her success in business “in large part to the support of her father. In one of her rare interviews with the press in 2013, she dismissed the suspicion out of hand, assuring that she “does not do politics” but exclusively “business”.
Isabel Dos Santos’ Biography
-Isabel dos Santos was born in 1973 in Baku, in Soviet Azerbaijan, where her Russian mother and father were studying engineering. At that time, this country was home to the young leaders of the African liberation movements. After her parents’ divorce, she moved to London with her mother, where she studied engineering at the famous King’s College.
The young woman returned to Angola in the 1990s. After having made her hand by opening the Miami Beach, she took off in 1999 by getting her hands on the future first cell phone operator of her country, Unitel. She will never stop. In a few years, this elegant woman with a matte complexion framed by thick jet-black hair built up an empire.
Angola, the second-largest producer of black gold in sub-Saharan Africa, took advantage of high oil prices to fill its coffers with petrodollars before the sudden drop in oil prices in 2014 plunged the country into crisis. The portfolio of Isabel dos Santos is thickening with holdings in telephony (Unitel and the giant Nos in Portugal), banking (BIC in Angola and BPI in Portugal), distribution, diamonds, or media.
In 2013, the American magazine Forbes declared her “the first woman billionaire in Africa”. Her wealth is then estimated at 3.3 billion dollars. In 2002, she married the Congolese-born businessman and art collector Sindika Dokolo. Their wedding in the gardens of the Pink Palace, the headquarters of the presidency in Luanda, cost $4 million, according to the press.
Isabel dos Santos was at the height of her fame and power. She divided her time between London, Lisbon and Luanda, frequented the top brass of the financial world and the stars of world cinema at the Cannes Film Festival…But the wind shifted when her father left the presidency in August 2017 and entrusted the keys of the country to his former minister of defense, Joao Lourenço. Anxious to assert his authority over the country, he took it upon himself to sack all those close to the former regime in the name of the fight against corruption.
Isabel dos Santos quickly paid the price, ruthlessly removed from her position as CEO of Sonangol, the all-powerful public oil group. Her father had opportunely appointed her to this position just before he retired. In the wake of this, the courts opened an investigation into possible misappropriation of funds, now documented by the “Luanda Leaks” revelations.
Her fight for decadency
Last month, an Angolan court accused her of having embezzled, with her husband, a billion dollars of public money to feed her business and ordered the freezing of her bank accounts and assets in Angola. It is on this ground that she plans to retaliate. Last week, the “entrepreneur” Isabel dos Santos threatened to run for president in 2022 in her country.