Isabel dos Santos: Angola's billionaire faces scrutiny over graft allegations


Luanda (AFP)

Isabel dos Santos, daughter of Angola's ex president is a British-educated billionaire businesswoman, who now faces allegations of plundering the public purse and funneling the money abroad.

Just under a decade ago, she became Africa's richest woman after Forbes magazine named her the continent's first female billionaire in 2013.

In a trove of 715,000 files dubbed the "Luanda Leaks" released at the weekend, the eldest daughter of former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Isabel is accused of syphoning state funds from the oil-rich, but impoverished country into offshore assets.

The award winning New York-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), alleged the international system has allowed powerful individuals like her, to move assets around the world, without questions.

Since her father left office in 2017, her investments in Angola and former colonial ruler Portugal, worth about $3 billion, according to Forbes magazine -- are now the subject of scrutiny.

Nicknamed "the princess", she is accused of amassing her vast fortune thanks to the backing of her authoritarian father who ruled the country for nearly 40 years from 1979.

The 46-year-old dos Santos has vehemently denied the allegations and accused President Joao Lourenco, her father's successor in Luanda, of a political witchhunt.

Her holdings in Angola include private banks, telecoms firm Unitel, a supermarket chain, a cement company and cable television.

In Portugal she owns seven percent of the oil and gas giant Galp Energia, and has major bank stakes there.

She also has a controlling share of a Portuguese cable TV and telecom firm.

However she puts her personal success down to driving ambition, saying she has always kept a clear divide between her business career and her father's position.

"My fortune is built on my character, my intelligence, education, capacity for work, perseverance," she wrote on Twitter on Sunday night.

She further tweeted that the ICIJ report was based on "many fake documents and false information" describing it as a "coordinated political attack" led by the Angolan government.

Angola's prosecutors last month froze the bank accounts and assets she and her Congolese husband Sindika Dokolo own, a move she described as a groundless political vendetta.

- 'Coordinated political attack' -

Born in Baku, Azerbaijan in 1973 where her father met her mother while studying, her family returned to Angola soon afterwards.

She said she had an ordinary childhood, walking to school -- and selling chicken eggs for profit -- even after her father became president in 1979 as the country descended into a long and bloody civil war.

When her parents separated, she moved with her mother to London, attending an elite private school and then taking a mechanical and electrical engineering degree at King's College.

She said she lived in basic student accommodation in London, and worked so hard that she had little time to party, especially with parents that she remembers being "very demanding".

In 1992 she moved to Angola after her father secured a brief civil war truce with the rebel UNITA movement.

Her first business venture was three years later when she opened Miami Beach restaurant in the capital Luanda, aged just 24.

Today she is married to art collector and businessman Dokolo who is from the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, and they have three children.

Until recently, she rarely gave media interviews and made only occasional appearances in public. But lately she has availed herself to several media houses as she seeks to defend herself against the corruption allegations.

Before her father stepped down, she was viewed as his possible successor.

She emerged as a serious presidential candidate in June 2016 when she was appointed head of the state oil firm Sonangol, the prime generator of Angola's wealth.

But the new president forced her out of the job within months of coming to power.

Recently she told the Portuguese state broadcaster Radio e Televisao de Portugal (RTP) that she would consider running for president in the next election in 2022.

She left Luanda shortly after she was deposed from Sonangol and now moves regularly between Lisbon and London.