Isabel dos Santos has been touted as Africa’s richest woman, worth about $2.4 billion, according to Forbes. She is also the daughter of the former Angolan president Jose Eduardo dos Santos.
However, her wealth has come under scrutiny, with many stating that she had acquired it through unscrupulous ways and thanks to her connection to the government. Over the years, she amassed stakes in important industries including banking, cement, diamond and telecom. These stakes she invested in a number of companies trading in Portugal.
However, with the stepping down of her father as president, things are taking a different turn.
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Dos Santos was fired from her position as CEO of the country’s oil company Sonangol when the new government took over. Further, she is under investigation over alleged fraud during her tenure, involving a suspicious transfer of $67 million to Dubai.
A recent investigative report by Maka Angola, an initiative dedicated to fighting corruption in the country, has revealed that contracts given to Dos Santos by her father over two years before his resignation had been cancelled by the new government.
The Luanda Metropolitan Master Plan contract worth $15 billion; Caculo-Cabaça dam and hydropower station contract worth $4.5 billion; the $700 million Corimba coastal road contract and the $1.5 billion port deal were all cancelled by President General João Lourenço.
Dos Santos has also been sued by Portugal Telecom Ventures, a shareholder in the UNITEL, a private mobile company where she is also a shareholder. The company is suing not only to reclaim unpaid dues worth $600 million but also to Dos Santos’ self-serving management over the company’s funds.
The report by Maka Angola claims that Dos Santos in 2012 and 2013 used money from UNITEL to invest in UNITEL International Holdings which she is the sole owner, without the approval from UNITEL shareholders.
She simultaneously signed the contracts as the representative of the lender (UNITEL) and debtor (UNITEL International Holding), and set a 10 years maturity and 1% interest rate to pay back the debt. Notwithstanding, another Isabel’s 100% owned company, Tokeyna, bought UNITEL’s credit to her. The accounting verified by Maka Angola shows that, the telecom company lost in the process US $315 million with such shuffling.
Immediately after Dos Santos’ firing from Sonangol, she had started looking for new deals with other companies. She also claimed that her firing is part of the political process in the country.
Back in 2013, she had refused to respond to questions for a 2013 Forbes article, where the question of her wealth and its connection to the government’s coffers was raised. Her representative sent the statement below.
Mrs. Isabel dos Santos is an independent business woman, and a private investor representing solely her own interests. Her investments in Angolan and/or in Portuguese companies are transparent and have been conducted through arms-length transactions involving external entities such as reputed banks and law firms.
According to Maka Angola, there are plans that she would be booted out of UNITEL, aftershocks of which could dent her wealth.