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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

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.

 

GE-Kerry
John Kerry (second from right), then US secretary of state, gestures on a tour of the General Electric Sonils compound at the Port of Luanda in Angola on May 4, 2014, alongside Jay Ireland (second from left), president and CEO of General Electric Africa. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

Angolan President João Lourenço’s lofty goal to clean up deep-rooted corruption faces a major hurdle, as the country has become embroiled in a dispute between General Electric and the Angolan-registered power producer Aenergy, owned by Portuguese businessman Ricardo Leitão Machado. Potential sanctions of up to $550 million are at play, the remainder of a US$1.1 billion credit line General Electric established with Lourenço’s predecessor, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, to boost Angola’s electricity production via twelve turbines spread over thirteen separate contracts.

Aenergy was to act as the local contractor responsible for constructing the turbines and furnishing material from General Electric. However, a dispute regarding the payment of four of the turbines, valued at about US$120 million, resulted in a delay of the project’s implementation and a falling-out between Aenergy and the Angolan government.

When Lourenço assumed office, he began revisiting contracts granted by his predecessor, leading him to eventually cancel via presidential decree all thirteen contracts after negotiations for the four turbines fell through.

 

General Electric is seeking to recuperate its investments

 

Aenergy is accusing the Angolan government of engaging in fraudulent behavior, and General Electric is seeking to recuperate its investments, placing the company in the position of a tendentious ally with Angola during the ongoing civil liability proceedings.

 

Lourenço
Angolan president João Lourenço must deal with a shrinking economy due to COVID-19 and a reduced global demand for oil. (AFP)

Angola’s President João Lourenço finds himself in the middle of numerous concentric circles of crises. These include a public health emergency in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, government revenues slashed by falling oil prices, systemic corruption and nepotism, widespread poverty, and a steep public debt repayment schedule. Angola’s debt-to-GDP ratio has reached a crippling 111 percent.

Lourenço brought a renewed sense of hope to the country when he took over from José Eduardo dos Santos in 2017. He inherited entrenched corruption, underdevelopment and poverty, inequality, a weakened and divided ruling party, and a heavily securitized state.

A new Institute for Security Studies report notes that on taking up the presidency, Lourenço rapidly understood that to survive he needed to reform. His task to revive the economy, fight corruption and open the political space was monumental to begin with. Now Angola faces even greater challenges. COVID-19 and dropping oil prices individually have the capacity to reverse many of the important reforms enacted.

In April global oil prices plummeted, causing the government to lose 40 percent of its revenues (equivalent to US$9.6 billion). The public health emergency has hit Angola at a time when it had continuously disinvested in social services, and the healthcare sector was severely underfunded, understaffed, and under-resourced.

 

Angola’s healthcare sector is severely underfunded, understaffed, and under-resourced

 

Lourenço declared a state of emergency on March 26 to try to impose a general quarantine to stop the COVID-19 spread. To date Angola has registered four deaths and eighty-six infections, although testing is scant and has mostly been targeted at people coming from abroad. The danger of the spread being underestimated and underreported is real given past experiences (the 2016 yellow fever outbreak) and the lack of general testing.

The Angolan Armed Forces were deployed in Luanda, patrolling the capital where millions live in very crowded neighborhoods and informal settlements. The military and police also began enforcing a curfew in the provinces.

An Angolan police officer confronts a man in the Kifangondo District in Luanda on May 13, 2020. The President of Angola, Joao Lourenco, declared a state of emergency in March 2020, banning public gatherings and restricting movement to limit the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
An Angolan police officer confronts a man in Kifangondo locality in Luanda on May 13, 2020. President Lourenço declared a state of emergency in March 2020, banning public gatherings and restricting movement to limit the spread of COVID-19. (AFP)

The government is coming under widespread criticism by civil society for the heavy-handed approach of the security forces and lack of solutions for people who have no food. Many chose to defy the restrictions, preferring to die of the disease than of starvation.

Managing this crisis was health minister Silvia Lutucuta, but she was quickly replaced by General Pedro Sebastiao who runs the Presidency’s Security Bureau. On 7 April Lourenço also staged a major government shake-up by replacing seventeen ministers and twenty-four state secretaries, reducing executive portfolios from twenty-eight to twenty-one.

 

COVID-19 and dropping oil prices individually could reverse many of the reforms enacted

 

The reshuffle is interpreted as his need to politically align allies rather than seek qualified individuals to help define a crisis response and recovery plan. So far, these actions are insufficient and unlikely to keep the country safe.

First, Lourenço should understand that party politics mean nothing in such circumstances, and that any effort to politicize this crisis will lose him the credibility he’s gained. He approved the transfer of US$420 million to a program aimed at helping 1.6 million families over the next two years. But how levels of vulnerability will be determined and how families will register for this aid remains unclear.

Second, any economic missteps will be vilified across society and have a negative impact on international partners. The bank loan from ABSA worth US$118 million for the purchase of aircraft for Angola’s national airline TAAG acquired at the end of March was unnecessary. Spending US$180 million in a context of extreme military overspending to pay for technical and military projects re-equipping the armed forces was also unwise.

Third, militarizing the lockdown and response will cause anger and place the most vulnerable at greater risk. Displaying a war mentality when it comes to dealing with social and public safety threats won’t save lives. Fourth, while resources are strained, Angola has formal and informal social networks to help build the resilience of the healthcare system and increase food security. These must be rallied.

 

As a securitized state, intelligence and surveillance services would be better used for contact tracing

 

Addressing these crises will require the kind of leadership that is transformational, honest and brave. Despite shortcomings thus far, the president can still correct his strategy. While government default should be avoided, restructuring the debt service is vital. Over 50 percent of the national budget shouldn’t be going to pay the government’s external public debt. These funds should be injected into the local economy and healthcare as temporary measures to ease suffering.

Micro-lending to stimulate food production and small business programs must be enacted countrywide, but should be monitored, and funds distributed by international and multilateral partners operating in Angola.

The military and other security forces of the Presidency are equipped to perform duties that go beyond national security. Their logistics systems allow them to bring in food harvested in the countryside to feed the cities. They can also help people relocate to their provinces of origin to help with farming and ease the pressure on cities. These security forces, including the police, are stationed in every province and have the capacity to help health officials with COVID-19 testing.

As a securitized state preoccupied with monitoring dissent, intelligence services and surveillance systems would be better used for contact tracing to help slow the spread of the virus. Given that social distancing is impossible in informal settlements, a combination of testing and contact tracing to quarantine those who have been exposed to COVID-19 is crucial.

Angola, like many other African countries, is facing seemingly insurmountable challenges. How Lourenço acts now will define his legacy.

 

Paula Cristina Roque is a consultant for the Institute for Security Studies

This article was originally published on ISS Today 

 

 

Isabel dos Santos
Isabel dos Santos, Angolan businesswoman and eldest child of former president José Eduardo dos Santos.

 

Isabel dos Santos, the Angolan billionaire accused of embezzlement and money laundering, plans to challenge the freezing of her assets in Portugal before the European Court of Human Rights, according to her lawyer, Lusa Dan Morrison, a partner at the London-based litigation firm Grosvenor Law.

This follows the December 2019 order by the Luanda Provincial Court to freeze the Angolan bank accounts and seize shareholdings in local assets held by dos Santos, her husband Sindika Dokolo and their Portuguese business associate Mário Leite da Silva. The Angolan authorities called for international cooperation to investigate the dos Santos fortune, leading Portuguese prosecutors to freeze her assets in Portugal.

In his statement, Morrison alleges Angola’s case against his client is based on fake documents, building on the accusation by Isabel dos Santos that the proceedings against her are part of a coordinated witch hunt by the Angolan authorities and a form of retribution by President João Lourenço, who served alongside her father, former president José Eduardo dos Santos, during his thirty-eight years in power.

 

She became the richest woman in Africa, in one of the poorest countries in the world

 

In her position as head of state oil company Sonangol, before she was fired by Lourenço, dos Santos benefited from favorable government contracts orchestrated by her father and made use of a global network of consultants, bankers, and lawyers to help her amass a fortune and move it offshore. She became the richest woman in Africa, in one of the poorest countries in the world.

When Lourenço came into office in 2017, he launched an anti-corruption drive and pursued his predecessor’s daughter and son over accusations of siphoning billions from state coffers. He has received praise for his anti-graft stance and efforts to recover the assets, but some analysts argue he has been using the focus on the dos Santos family to consolidate power in his own party and to cover for the fact that his administration has failed to rectify broader, systemic issues of poverty.

 

A picture taken on February 17, 2020 shows the headquarters with the logo of Angolan oil company Sonangol EP. Osvaldo Silva / AFP
The headquarters of Angolan oil company Sonangol in Luanda. (Osvaldo Silva/AFP)

 

Sonangol, Angola’s state-owned corporate group overseeing petroleum and natural gas exploitation, has begun to call for tenders to sell off some of its assets. Executive administrator Sebastião Gaspar Martins says Sonangol needs to get rid of activities that are not directly related to its core business. This includes divesting itself of majority stakes it holds in Sonatide Marine Limited and Sonatide Marine Angola Limitada, enterprises focused on maritime transport, and minority stakes held in seven other companies linked to the petroleum industry.

Asset sell-offs will go on until the end of May, which is part of President João Lourenço’s efforts to diversify the Angolan economy, so far driven by its oil sector.

 

Angola will feel a far worse sting now that oil prices have fallen to unprecedented lows.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic threatens to slow economic growth across the continent, but Angola is among the countries that will feel a far worse sting now that oil prices have fallen to unprecedented lows.

 

Luanda Leaks Fallout

President Lourenço is also confronted with the need to rehabilitate the reputation of Angola’s state-owned enterprises, after the Luanda Leaks revealed that the family of former president José Eduardo dos Santos directly profited from insider deals with entities like Sonangol to amass fortunes, with little to none of that money benefitting the Angolan people.

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived on Tuesday, February 18, to Ethiopia, his third and last stop in a trip that also took the Secretary to Senegal and Angola. In Angola, Secretary Pompeo was welcomed by the Angolan President João Lourenço and Minister of External Relations Manuel Augusto, who in a carefully crafted tweet noted that the two countries were “on the right path towards the strengthening of mutual cooperation.” Pompeo, on the other hand, acknowledged that Angola was standing up against corruption, effectively endorsing President Laurenço's position against the Dos Santos family, in light of the recent ICIJ revelations.

Secretary Pompeo arrived in Luanda from Dakar, Senegal where he met President Macky Sall. He also held a joint conference with the Senegalese Minister of Foreign Affairs Amadou Ba during which Mr. Pompeo reportedly declared that there was “no better place to start my first trip in Africa” than Senegal. The visit was also described in many news reports and social media posts as the Secretary’s “first” or “maiden” Africa trip, and as the first visit by a US Cabinet official to Africa in 18 months

The only problem is this is not Mr. Pompeo’s first Africa trip. In fact, Mr. Pompeo travelled to Morocco, a founding member of the Organization of African Unity, in early December 2019 where he held bilateral talks with his Moroccan counterpart Minister Nasser Bourita. Although the trip was initially scheduled for a three-day period, Mr. Pompeo reportedly left Morocco after few hours only for reasons that have yet to be disclosed by officials on either side. It is therefore inexplicable that Mr. Pompeo would allegedly make such an oversight. In fact, in his official Twitter account he describes the Senegal trip as his “first official visit to West Africa”. Could Minister Ba’s tweet have erroneously misquoted Mr. Pompeo? Possibly.

Still, selected journalists and respected scholars, knowingly or not, played into this age-old controversy on the “Africanity” of North African countries. “North Africa is not Africa” is a recurring accusation on Twitter sometimes cast against North Africans in relation to allegations of racism, sports-related controversies or ethnic differences. Against this backdrop, we at the New Africa Daily are very interested in your views on this issue. Please tweet your opinions at us via our Twitter handle (@newafricadly).

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