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Socialism, capitalism, globalization, the judicialization of politics, and the politicization of justice. The rise and fall of Isabel dos Santos’s empire synthetizes the contradictions of our times.

In 2013, Forbes magazine reported that Isabel dos Santos, the eldest daughter of Angolan president José Eduardo dos Santos, was Africa’s first woman billionaire. She has always claimed that her fortune is the product of hard work and entrepreneurship, but, two years after her father stepped down in 2017, her empire began to crumble.

On December 30, 2019, the Luanda Provincial Court ordered the freezing of her Angolan bank accounts and the seizure of her shareholdings in local companies Unitel, Banco de Fomento Angola, ZAP, Finstar, Nova Cimangola II, Condis, Continente Angola and Sodiba. The order also applied to her husband, Sindika Dokolo, and their business associate Mário Leite da Silva. The government is hoping to recover US$1.1 billion in losses from the couple and their associate.

Following the release of a trove of more than 700,000 leaked emails and other documents—known as the Luanda Leaks—the Angolan attorney general charged Isabel dos Santos with money laundering, influence peddling, and document forgery. The Portuguese judicial authorities have also opened an investigation against her on suspicion of money laundering.

 

Socialism: The Origins

“Once upon a time there was a princess whose father ruled a socialist country.” If Isabel dos Santos’s story were a fairy tale, this is how it would start. Whereas Isabel’s business skills are undisputable, she didn’t start her fortune by selling eggs on the streets.

The remote origins of her empire date back to the centralism and dirigisme implemented by the once Marxist–Leninist MPLA (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola). Like other liberation movements, after coming to power the MPLA combined this statist approach and socialist rhetoric with the sacralization of liberation credentials and the centralization of power in the “comrade president” and “architect of peace”, José Eduardo dos Santos. Economic restructuring and diversification were indefinitely delayed in the name of primitive accumulation and rent seeking, benefiting a ruling elite in general and the presidential family in particular.

With the end of José Eduardo dos Santos’s rule, Angola seems to be—albeit slowly and painfully—entering a new era. President João Lourenço has made the restructuring of the economy and the war on corruption his top priorities, and on the corruption front his efforts are paying off. In 2019, the country moved up 19 places in the Corruption Perceptions Index.

Some people who were close to the former president are cooperating with the Asset Recovery Service, including former vice president Manuel Vicente; General Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias Jr, known by the nickname Kopelipa; and Leopoldino Fragoso do Nascimento, a.k.a. General Dino.

 

Capitalism: Building an Empire

Isabel dos Santos wanted more than a lavish lifestyle, unlike María Gabriela Chávez Colmenares, daughter of the former Venezuelan president; Chatunga Mugabe, son of the former Zimbabwean president; and Teodorin Obiang, son of the former president of Equatorial Guinea. She wanted to have it all, and so the story of her empire is also a story of contradictions. What made her fortune possible was, first and foremost, a centralized economy where the state, embodied in the president, played the leading role in the economy. However, this fortune was multiplied thanks to the logics and institutions of capitalism.

Isabel constructed the image of a woman embodying initiative, entrepreneurship, and hard work. She talks about creating wealth, jobs, opportunities, and empowering women (which, to be fair, she also did), and making Angola a prosperous and competitive economy. In a recent interview with the BBC, she defined herself as an economically oriented woman coming from the private sector, and not an insider in Angolan politics.

In fact, Isabel not only extended her operations to every relevant sector of the Angolan economy, including telecommunications, mining, oil, banking, and retail, but also became a key investor in Portugal.

In 1997, in her early twenties, she created Urbana 2000 and won a contract to manage Luanda’s urban cleaning and sanitation systems. In the late 1990s, José Eduardo dos Santos declared that licenses to operate in the (promising) telecom sector could be granted without a public tender, provided it was a joint venture with the state. The license was given to the recently founded Unitel, where Sonangol had a 25 percent stake and Isabel dos Santos—one of the founders—another 25 percent. Later, Unitel would grant more than US$350 million in funding to Unitel International Holdings (a company controlled by Isabel dos Santos). Part of that money was used by Isabel to enter into the Portuguese telecom market, through the creation of the media company Nos.

The relationship between Isabel and Angola’s state oil company the Sonangol Group—a key focus of the Luanda Leaks—dates back to 2006, when she and her husband became partners of Sonangol through a Netherlands holding company called Esperaza. Esperaza controlled 45 percent of Amorim Energia, which acquired 33.34 percent of the Portuguese Galp Energia, a position worth over US$700 million. However, while Amorim Energia paid US$126 million in dividends to Esperaza (transferred to a Deutsche Bank holding account in the Netherlands), Sonangol allegedly did not receive its share. In 2015, following pressure from Deutsche Bank, the money was transferred to an account at EuroBic (formerly known as Banco Bic) in Lisbon. Banco Bic had been created in 2008 by Isabel dos Santos, Fernando Teles and Américo Amorim. In 2014, Isabel dos Santos had secured a 42.5 percent majority stake in the bank.

In 2010, José Eduardo dos Santos decided to start selling Angolan diamonds abroad. In 2012, the state-owned Sodiam established a partnership with Melbourne Investments (controlled by Sindika Dokolo) to buy the Swiss luxury jeweler De Grisogono. However, whereas Melbourne Investments retained control of the operation, Sodiam paid US$79 million for the acquisition. In order to finance the operation, Sodiam got a US$120 million loan from EuroBic, guaranteed by the Angolan Treasury. According to the Sodiam chairman, the Angolan state has not profited from the venture.

 

Globalization: Luanda, Dubai, Budapest, Paris, and Gaia

The story of Isabel dos Santos’s fortune is also a product of globalization. Back in the Cold War times, money would often travel the world in suitcases. But four decades later, in a world of globalized capital, money can travel around the world through multiple vehicles in a sequence of rapid and volatile flows that challenge regulators’ capacities. Isabel’s businesses were assisted by top consultancies and legal firms, many of them with a global footprint. Between 1992 and 2019, Isabel dos Santos and Sindika Dokolo held stakes in 423 companies and their subsidiaries. Many were Portuguese (155) and Angolan (99), but their empire was global.

What shook this empire was a decision taken in Luanda in 2016 by the central committee of the ruling MPLA and José Eduardo dos Santos himself: to start a process of leadership change in Angola.

In June 2016, about one year before exiting the presidency, José Eduardo dos Santos appointed his daughter non-executive director and chairwoman of Sonangol, at a time when the company was in deep financial trouble. In November 2017, less than two months after taking office and amid growing political tension, new Angolan president João Lourenço fired Isabel dos Santos from Sonangol.

During the last six months of her tenure, US$115 million was allegedly transferred from the Sonangol account to Matter Business Solutions, a consulting firm in Dubai controlled by Isabel dos Santo’s right-hand man, Mário Leite da Silva. She claims the money was to pay for services provided within the company’s major restructuring plan, as Matter Business Solutions was in charge of coordinating the process that involved services provided by Boston Consulting Group, PricewaterhouseCoopers, McKinsey & Company, and the Portuguese law firm Vieira de Almeida.

But as the dos Santos saga is far from over, a new dilemma—of a juridical, political, and moral nature—is emerging. A substantial part of the information used to accuse Isabel dos Santos comes from a “leakage of information” contained in more than 715,000 files allegedly delivered by a Portuguese hacker to the Paris-based Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF), chaired by Edward Snowden’s lawyer William Bourdon. The information was then passed to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). A whistleblower, according to PPLAAF, is “a person who discloses information regarding actions that are unlawful, illicit or against public interest, that he/she has witnessed, especially in the context of his/her work.”

From Paris, let us go to the Portuguese cities of Lisbon and Gaia. A couple of years ago, one of the main Portuguese advocacy firms that provided legal services to Isabel dos Santos was the victim of a cyberattack. Gaia is the city where, at the age of 23 and operating from his personal computer in his family house, Rui Pinto managed to sack €264 million from a bank based in the Cayman Islands. Rui Pinto is known for the “Football Leaks”, which exposed corruption in European football and tax fraud by stars like Cristiano Ronaldo and José Mourinho. Searched by the Portuguese Police, he was extradited from Hungary in 2019. Rui Pinto is now in pre-detention and will be judged for 90 crimes in the “Football Leaks” process, including extorsion attempt, illegitimate access, undue access, violation of correspondence, and computer sabotage. Rui Pinto’s lawyer William Bourdon has declared that Rui Pinto is the only informant behind the Luanda Leaks, as he “accidentally” found information related to Isabel dos Santos’s companies.

 

Dilemmas of the 21st Century

Tempting as it may be to define Rui Pinto as a martyr fighting for transparency and accountability in Africa, this narrative—which is the one his legal team is trying to construct—lacks credibility. In the meantime, Isabel dos Santos has announced that she will launch legal action against the ICIJ and its media partners assisted by Schillings, a law firm with experience in politically motivated hacking and whose team includes intelligence experts, investigators and cyber specialists.

 And so the story of Isabel dos Santos’s empire, whose origins date back to the post-Cold War period, brings us to great dilemmas of the 21st century. First, the judicialization of politics and the politicization of justice. Isabel dos Santos claimed that this was a coordinated and politically motivated attack. In a scenario where it is proved that Rui Pinto didn’t act alone and was moved exclusively by a hunger for justice and transparency, she may score a victory that could negatively impact the image of the post-dos Santos Angola. So far, however, the Angolan executive has the upper hand, as Isabel dos Santos seems willing to negotiate a return of the funds, an outcome which, at the end of the day, would represent a win-win situation.

Second, the Luanda Leaks reveal the urgency of profound reflections, so that we don’t risk being run over by events. Cyber-piracy is a crime punishable by law. In a politically polarized world where hacktivism is on the rise, transforming hackers into heroes may create a dangerous precedent, as offences are judged by their consequences or alleged intentions. Moreover, in constitutional and democratic states, to what extent must the rule of law be sacrificed in the name of what PLAAF describes as “international public interest”? And who, in a world where the local, the national, and the global are in permanent tension, should define what “international public interest” means?

It is too soon to tell how this story will end, as there is a long judicial, political, and information war ahead. What is certain is that we should all take an interest in the Luanda Leaks, given its origins, developments, and potential consequences.

 

CHRONOLOGY

1997 – Isabel creates Urbana 2000 and ventures into Luanda’s urban cleaning and sanitation systems.

2000 – José Eduardo dos Santos pushed for the establishment of Ascorp, a company with the exclusive rights in the commercialization and export of Angolan diamonds. Sodiam controls 51 percent of Ascorp, whereas Trans Africa Investment Services controls 24.5 percent (Isabel dos Santos and her mother, Tatiana Kukanova, control 75 and 25 percent, respectively, of Trans Africa).

December 2006 – Isabel and her husband, Sindika Dokolo, through Exem Energy, become partners of Sonangol in the Esperaza Holding. The Holding had acquired a 45 percent share of Amorim Energia BV, which controlled one-third of the Portuguese Galp Energia.

Sonangol sold 40 percent of its position in the joint venture to Exem (a deal valued at US$99 million).

JANUARY 2007 – Exem pays US$15 million to Sonangol for the 40 percent stake in Esperaza.

2008 – Through a participation in BIC Angola, Isabel dos Santos, along with Américo Amorim and Fernando Teles, founds Banco BIC in Portugal.

2007–2014 – During this period, Amorim Energia paid €126 million in dividends to Esperaza. The money was transferred to a Deutsche Bank account in the Netherlands.

2011 – Isabel dos Santos establishes a deal with Sonae to take the Continente supermarket chain to Angola. Isabel eventually exited the deal and created her own chain, Candando.

May 2012 – Unitel grants the first of several loans (totaling 460 million) to Unitel International Holdings.

2014 – Isabel dos Santos becomes the main shareholder of the EuroBic through Santoro Financial Holdings.

2015 – Niara Holding is awarded part of a contract worth US$4.5 billion to construct the dam and hydroelectric station in Caculo Cabaça. The company belongs to Isabel dos Santos, who enters the project in a partnership with the China Ghezouba Group Company (CGGC).

2015 – Through Winterfell 2 Limited, a company based in Malta, Isabel dos Santos acquires a 65 percent position in the Portuguese Efacec Power Solutions, with operations in Angola and Mozambique.

2015 – After pressure from Deutsche Bank, €124 million from an Esperaza account is transferred to a EuroBic account in Lisbon.

June 2, 2016 – Isabel dos Santos is appointed chairwoman of Sonangol.

June 30, 2017 Exem Energy sends a letter to the chairwoman of Sonangol informing her of the company’s willingness to pay the total value of the debt (estimated at €72.8 million), on the condition that the payment be made in kwanzas.

August 2017 – The Sonangol board accepts the payment proposal.

November 2017 – Isabel dos Santos is fired from Sonangol.

November 2017 – Esperaza orders a payment of 67 million to Sonangol, a transfer from the EuroBic account in Lisbon.

November 2017 – US$58 million is transferred from a Sonangol account to the Dubai-based Matter Business Solutions.

December 30, 2019 – The Angolan Provincial Court communicates the preventive seizure of Isabel dos Santos’s assets.

January 2020 – The Luanda Leaks information is disseminated by international media.

January 23, 2020 – Isabel dos Santos is formerly accused by the Angolan attorney general.

January 27, 2020 – William Bourdon declares that his client the Portuguese hacker Rui Pinto is the only informant behind the Luanda Leaks.

January 27, 2020 – Isabel dos Santos announces that she is launching legal action against the ICIJ and its media partners.

February 1, 2010 – According to Portuguese media, a source close to the Angolan attorney general says Isabel dos Santos’s legal team is negotiating with Luanda to pay debts contracted with Sodiam and Sonangol.

 

Teresa Nogueira Pinto is a Phd Candidate in Global Studies and an African Affairs analyst. 

Twitter: @Teresa_np

Mauritanian flag

The anti-corruption division of the public prosecutor’s office in West Nouakchott says about US$1 million was embezzled from the Central Bank of Mauritania. The police arrested five suspects after the bank filed a complaint against the treasurer in charge of foreign exchange operation and others on July 3. The authorities have not revealed any more information about the suspects or their investigation.

 

“The credibility of our monetary system is at risk”

 

Boydiel Ould Houmeid—former vice-president of the National Assembly, a former presidential candidate, and leader of the opposition party El Wiam—described the revelation as a “scandal” that will negatively impact Mauritania’s reputation and its monetary relations with other countries. Houmeid also demanded the creation of a parliamentary inquiry into the matter, warning that “the credibility of our monetary system is at risk.”

Houmeid’s El Wiam party was heavily involved in mass protests in 2011 against former president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, so he may also be using this scandal to push for greater legislative oversight of the Mauritanian executive.

 

Ivorian prime minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly died on July 8, 2020, at the age of sixty-one. (Issouf Sanogo/AFP)
Ivorian prime minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly died on July 8, 2020, at the age of sixty-one. (Issouf Sanogo/AFP)

Amadou Gon Coulibaly, prime minister of Côte d’Ivoire, passed away suddenly on Wednesday, July 8, in Abidjan, six days after returning to the country following a two-month stay in France. He was taken to hospital after he started to feel ill during a cabinet meeting. He had been battling chronic heart problems for years and had had a heart transplant in 2012, and after his latest check-up in Paris he underwent a procedure to have a stent inserted in a blocked coronary artery.

Coulibaly was a close political ally of incumbent president Alassane Ouattara for thirty years. Before he was appointed prime minister in 2017, he served as secretary-general of the presidency under Ouattara from 2011 to 2017, and before that as agriculture minister from 2002 to 2010.

Patrick Achi, secretary-general of the presidency, issued a statement of condolences on behalf of President Alassane Ouattara, saying, “Côte d’Ivoire is in mourning… I salute my young brother, my son, Amadou Gon Coulibaly, who had been my closest ally for thirty years.”

Former president Henri Konan Bédié issued his own statement on behalf of himself and his party, the PDCI-RDA, saying, “His unexpected death today deeply saddens us. A great servant of the state, he remains an example of loyalty and fidelity with respect to his political convictions.”  

 

Presidential Election

Côte d’Ivoire is set to hold a presidential election on October 31.

Ouattara had made it clear in the past that he would run for another term should Bédié and Laurent Gbagbo—president during the country’s civil war (2002–2011) and recently acquitted of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court—participate in the October election.

Following months of speculation and fears that Ouattara would seek a third term, he announced in March that he would not run. The governing Rassemblement des Houphouëtistes pour la Démocratie et la Paix (RHDP) alliance then designated Coulibaly as its candidate. His death is likely to increase tensions in the country and set off a jockeying for the candidacy within the RHDP alliance.

Bédié, who is eighty-six years old, has stated his intention to run for president. So did former prime minister Guillaume Soro, but in April this year he was convicted in absentia on embezzlement charges and sentenced to twenty years in prison. His lawyers have claimed this was a ruse to prevent him from contesting the election.

Formal campaigning was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and during an April 8 cabinet meeting held via video link President Ouattara hinted at a possible postponement of the election. Coulibaly’s death throws the political situation into more disarray.

 

Namibian flag

An adverse opinion in an audit report of the Namibian defense ministry has created a major political rift between the country’s auditor general, Junias Kandjeke, and defense minister Peter Hafeni Vilho. The latter accuses Kandjeke and other auditors of engaging in “daylight espionage” after demanding access to military bases to assess the fighting capability of certain military equipment.

 

He said publishing such information posed a threat to national security

 

Vilho made the serious allegation at last week’s gathering of the National Assembly, saying that publishing such information for anyone to see posed a threat to national security. He said of the US$34 million being probed, US$26.8 million worth of invoices had been made available to the auditors. To him, the adverse opinion implies the ministry had wasted millions and had refused to cooperate in the audit process.

In defense of his office, Kandjeke has denied any such allegations. He maintains the constitution gives him the authority to audit all state institutions.

His position is backed by Mike Kavekotora, the leader of the opposition Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP) party, who refuted the accusations that the auditor general’s report violated national security or that espionage was involved. Kavekotora said the defense ministry was using these charges to conceal the misappropriation of state funds and maladministration.

Kavekotora ran in the 2019 presidential election and obtained 0.4 percent of the votes.

 

Burkina Faso President Roch Marc Christian Kabore poses for a group picture during the G5 Sahel summit on June 30, 2020, in Nouakchott. The leaders of the G5 Sahel West African countries and their ally France are meeting to confer over their troubled efforts to stem a jihadist offensive unfolding in the region, six months after rebooting their campaign in Pau, southwestern France. Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP
Burkinabe president Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, photographed during the G5 Sahel summit in Nouakchott, Mauritiania, on June 30, 2020. (Ludovic Marin/Pool/AFP)

A coalition of trade unions gathered in the Burkinabe capital, Ouagadougou, on July 4 to restate demands to the government and motivate its members to take part in a mass general strike on July 8 and 9. The coalition’s demands have largely been focused on charges of corruption and poor economic management on the part of the ruling MPP party and President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré.

The fact that the coalition successfully convened the general meeting is a strong sign that it will deliver on the threat of a strike, given that its spokesperson, Bassolma Bazié, had announced the group’s intention to hold such a meeting and a general strike on these dates about two weeks earlier.

 

Compounding a Crisis

The threat of a mass strike places further pressure on the Kaboré administration, which has been trying to get a handle on the spread of COVID-19 in the country while contending with a dire humanitarian crisis. More than 800,000 people have been internally displaced due to an escalating jihadist insurgency and food insecurity.

The pandemic has further put a grinding halt to most mining exploration in the country, which forms the backbone of the country’s exports, 75 percent of which is gold.

 

Imam Mahmoud Dicko, one of the most influential personalities in Malian political landscape, addresses the crowd the Independence square in Bamako on June 5, 2020 after he've called for a political march to be held after the Friday prayer, against Malian president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and his politics. Tens of thousands of people rallied in Mali's capital Bamako on Friday demanding the departure of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, in a show of force from his recently energised opponents.  MICHELE CATTANI / AFP
Imam Mahmoud Dicko addresses protesters at Independence Square in Bamako on June 5, 2020. (Michele Cattani/AFP)

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta of Mali met with Imam Mahmoud Dicko, one of the main leaders of the mass protest movement against his administration, on Saturday, July 4. The meeting comes after weeks of demonstrations involving tens of thousands of Malians in the capital Bamako and other large cities such as Sikasso and Mopti.

These demonstrations quickly crystalized into the Mouvement du 5 Juin – Rassemblement des Forces Patriotiques (M5–RFP). Named after the date of the first protest action, it has come to include virtually all of Mali’s political opposition.

The meeting with Imam Dicko comes shortly after M5–RFP said it would no longer insist on Keïta’s resignation on condition he acceded to a set of new demands, including the dissolution of parliament, the formation of a transitional government, and the appointment of a new prime minister.

After the meeting between Keïta and Dicko on Saturday, M5–RFP published a statement saying Keïta had refused to accede to the latest demands, so it was reaffirming its intention to get him to resign.

 

Who Is Imam Dicko?

Mahmoud Dicko, who is the head of High Islamic Council in Mali, has been a prominent force in Malian politics since democratization began in 1991. He has conservative views, but is opposed to violent jihad.  

He is said to have played a key role in President Keïta’s decision to engage in dialogue with jihadists active in the country’s north, whose attacks have been responsible for killing hundreds of Malian soldiers and civilians despite the presence of French troops under Operation Barkhane and a UN peacekeeping force under MINUSMA.

 

dos santos
Former Angolan first daughter Isabel dos Santos has been accused of mismanagement, embezzlement of state funds, and money laundering. (Photo via AFP)

Angolan billionaire Isabel dos Santos is going down swinging, and even the late Bruce Lee has been drawn into the saga. The eldest daughter of former president José Eduardo dos Santos claims a copy of a fake passport bearing the replicated signature of the martial artist and movie star was used as evidence to justify the freezing of her Angolan assets.

In a statement released on June 29 after she lost an appeal against the freezing of her assets, she claimed she had been denied justice. “This denial of justice comes from the Angolan courts, which have rejected my appeal on the grounds that it was not filed on time,” she said. “It is disappointing not to be allowed a day in court to prove my innocence and establish the truth.”

 

It Runs in the Family

José Eduardo dos Santos was the president of Angola for thirty-eight years, during which time his family amassed a fortune estimated at billions of dollars.

In 2016, he appointed Isabel, his eldest daughter, as chairperson of the state oil company Sonangol. By that time, her half-brother José Filomeno dos Santos, also known as Zenu, was already the chairperson of the state’s sovereign wealth fund.

Some of their lesser-known siblings and the first lady also had numerous business ventures that benefited from contracts with the state.

Isabel became a significant investor in banking and telecommunications assets in Portugal, and the international press lauded her as a self-made billionaire. She was ostensibly the eighth-richest woman in the world, who had achieved this status through shrewd business instincts, hard work, and tenacity. She and her husband, Congolese businessman Sindika Dokolo, were often photographed with celebrities at glitzy events.

 

A New Order

João Lourenço took over as president in September 2017. He had barely been sworn in before he took drastic steps to crack down on corruption, including firing both Isabel and Zenu from their posts.

On December 23, 2019, the Angolan high court froze the domestic assets of Isabel, Dokolo, and Mário Leite da Silva, the chairman of Banco de Fomento Angola, while investigations were ongoing into claims she and her businesses owed Angola more than US$1 billion. (That figure has since ballooned to US$5 billion.)

The Angolan authorities requested that Portugal freeze their bank accounts, and in February the public prosecutor’s office in Lisbon confirmed that dozens of their personal and corporate accounts had been seized.

Zenu is currently on trial in Angola, accused of transferring US$500 million to a foreign bank account using fake documents.

 

The Luanda Leaks

In January 2020, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) published a report of its investigation after it had obtained a trove of documents that came to be known as the Luanda Leaks. The investigation drew on 715,000 confidential financial and business documents and hundreds of interviews to trace Isabel dos Santos’s wealth, the result of two decades’ worth of nepotism, shell companies, and insider deals that robbed the Angolan people of the wealth stemming from the country’s rich oil and diamond deposits.

It presented a stark illustration of how dictators and their families move their ill-gotten gains to offshore secrecy jurisdictions with the aid of prominent Western banking and credit firms.

The results of such corruption have been devastating for Angola: the country is ranked as one of the most corrupt in the world, and has an average life expectancy at birth of just sixty and an infant mortality rate among the highest in the world.

The ICIJ, in conjunction with thirty-six media partners, found that Isabel dos Santos, Sindika Dokolo, and several intermediaries built a fraudulent international business empire with more than 400 companies and subsidiaries in 41 countries. At least 94 of these companies were in secrecy jurisdictions like Malta, Hong Kong, and Mauritius. Secrecy jurisdictions are places where businesses or individuals can escape financial rules, regulations, and laws of other jurisdictions through the use of shadow accounts and other secretive measures. These companies extracted billions of dollars’ worth of consulting jobs, loans, and public contracts from the Angolan government.

Western consulting firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers and Boston Consulting played a crucial role in aiding and abetting the dos Santos kleptocratic empire. Large companies and state enterprises from China and the Netherlands maintained partnerships with the dos Santos family even after other international banking firms like Barclays and Citigroup Global Markets Ltd. pulled out of deals due to heightened scrutiny and concerns over the close connections between Isabel and her husband’s business accounts with the Angolan state.

 

Denial and Counterattack

Isabel and her husband, who currently live in the UK, have not been formally indicted, but civil and criminal proceedings have been opened against them, according to Angola’s public prosecutor’s office.

They have maintained their innocence, claiming the accusations against them are politically motivated, and have enlisted the services of lawyers and reputation managers.

In interviews with the media, Isabel has even suggested she might run for president of Angola in 2022.

 

A man stands in front of a sign of opposition Presidential candidate Umaro Sissoco Embalo in Bissau, on December 27, 2019, ahead of the second round of the presidential elections. Voters in Guinea-Bissau are being called out to cast their ballots in a presidential runoff on December 29, capping a year of turmoil in the poor, coup-prone West African state. After months of acrimony, people are being asked to choose between two former prime ministers -- Domingos Simoes Pereira, from the traditional ruling PAIGC party, and opposition figure Umaro Sissoco Embalo. SEYLLOU / AFP
A man stands in front of a campaign poster featuring then presidential candidate Umaro Sissoco Embaló in Bissau, on December 27, 2019, ahead of the second round of the presidential election. (Seyllou/AFP)

The alliance that supports Umaro Sissoco Embaló, who was declared the winner of the second-round presidential election in Guinea-Bissau in December despite the main opposition contesting the legitimacy of his election victory, has achieved a crucial parliamentary majority.

During a congressional session boycotted by the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), which held an absolute majority of 54 seats out of 102 after legislative elections held in March 2019, Embaló was able to formalize a new alliance and implement Prime Minister Nuno Gomes Nabiam’s governance program.

In April, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) formally recognized Embaló as the duly elected leader of Guinea-Bissau in an effort to help the country resolve the post-election crisis. At the same time, ECOWAS stressed the need to immediately start the reform process for a new constitution, to be put to a referendum within six months.

The new president’s victory in parliament comes just two days after he fired five cabinet ministers without any explanation. According to Reuters, they were all members of Embaló’s Madem G15 party or parties loyal to him.

 

Guinea-Bissau has often been called a narco state

 

PAIGC leader Domingos Simões Pereira, a former prime minister and presidential candidate in the last election, has pledged that his PAIGC party will continue to resist Embaló’s rule while also pursuing a pathway to stabilize Guinea-Bissau. The country has often been called a narco state due to the high volume of illegal drugs that pass through it, stemming from prolonged political and security instability.

 

Patrice Talon, the President of Benin during a conference co-organized by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on sustainable development and debt at the Abdou Diouf de Diamniadio conference centre in Diamniadio, on December 2, 2019.  SEYLLOU / AFP
Beninese president Patrice Talon, photographed during a conference on sustainable development and debt in Diamniadio, Senegal, on December 2, 2019. (Seyllou/AFP)

About fifteen members of the Beninese military were arrested during the night of June 25–26 on suspicion of attempting a coup d’état, Jeune Afrique reports. The details of the incident have not been made public yet, but the suspects were arrested and brought before the Court for the Suppression of Economic Offenses and Terrorism. Among the accused is the cabinet director for the Ministry of Defense, Colonel Montan Kérékou, who previously served as the bodyguard of former president Mathieu Kérékou’s son.

This would be the second mass arrest made this year in connection with a destabilization effort. In mid-February, twenty people, including ten soldiers, were arrested in Cotonou as part of an investigation into an alleged attempt to destabilize the country.

 

These are the first significant arrests made by the newly created National Guard

 

President Patrice Talon characterized the alleged coup attempt as an effort by various political forces to frustrate his efforts to “modernize, “clean up,” and “reform the totality of the state body.” But it can also be seen as an expression of discontent with the current government—in the April 2019 legislative elections, opposition parties were banned from taking part. Only two blocs, both loyal to Talon, participated in the elections, which has given him total control of the assembly.

What makes this latest action remarkable is that it is the first significant arrests made by the newly created National Guard, proposed in January 2020 and approved by the Beninese legislature on June 23. The National Guard functions as the fourth branch of the Beninese military alongside the army, air force, and navy.

 

A soldier votes at a polling booth during the presidential elections at the Malembo polling station in Lilongwe on June 23, 2020. Malawians return to the polls on June 23, 2020 for the second time in just over a year to vote for a new president after Peter Mutharika's re-election was annulled over rigging. The election is much anticipated after the Constitutional Court early this year ruled that the May 2019 vote, won narrowly by Mutharika, was fraught with "grave and widespread irregularities" including the use of correction fluid on results sheets.  AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP
A soldier votes at a polling booth during the presidential elections at the Malembo polling station in Lilongwe on June 23, 2020. (Amos Gumulira/AFP)

Malawians went to the polls on Monday, June 23, to participate in the country’s presidential election rerun. Following accusations by the political opposition and civil activists of vote rigging in the May 2019 election, the Constitutional Court in February nullified the results citing massive irregularities, including the revelation that Tipp-Ex correction fluid was used to alter vote tallies. Incumbent president Peter Mutharika, who had won a second term, and the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) appealed the ruling, but the Supreme Court upheld the order for a rerun of the election.

 

Early results have started to come in, indicating it’s a close race

 

Despite present fears of COVID-19 spread, the turnout was high in the major cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuza, and Zomba.

Early results have started to come in, indicating it’s a close race between Mutharika and his challenger, Lazarus Chakwera, head of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP). Unlike last year’s election, either candidate needs to earn more than 50 percent of the vote in order to avoid a runoff election.

Chakwera’s MCP has aligned itself with the United Transformation Movement, led by current vice-president Saoulos Chilima. The Democratic Progressive Party of Chakwera also formed an alliance with the United Democratic Front, led by the son of former president Bakili Muluzi.

 

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Jul 11, 2020