ISABEL DOS SANTOS: HOW AN AFRICAN ‘PRINCESS’ BANKED $3 BILLION IN A DECADE


LAST DECEMBER Isabel dos Santos commemorated her tenth wedding anniversary to Congolese businessman Sindika Dokolo with a party. Subtlety wasn’t on the menu. She jetted in dozens of friends and relatives from as far as Germany and Brazil, who joined with hundreds of local guests in Angola for three days of lavishness, including a bash at the Fortress of Sao Miguel in the capital city of Luanda and a beachside Sunday brunch on the posh Mussulo peninsula. The invitation, according to one attendee, came in a sleek white box, promising a celebration of “a decade of passion/ a decade of friendship/ a decade worth a hundred years. …”

A decade worth $3 billion is more like it. At 40 Dos Santos is Africa’s only female billionaire, and also the continent’s youngest. She has quickly and systematically garnered significant stakes in Angola’s strategic industries–banking, cement, diamonds and telecom–making her the most influential businessperson in her homeland. More than half of her assets are held in publicly traded Portuguese companies, adding international credibility. When FORBES outed her as a billionaire in January the government disseminated the news as a matter of national pride, living proof that this country of 19 million has arrived.

The real story, however, is how Dos Santos–the oldest daughter of Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos–acquired her wealth. For the past year FORBES has been tracing Isabel dos Santos’ path to riches, reviewing a score of documents and speaking with dozens of people on the ground. As best as we can trace, every major Angolan investment held by Dos Santos stems either from taking a chunk of a company that wants to do business in the country or from a stroke of the president’s pen that cut her into the action. Her story is a rare window into the same, tragic kleptocratic narrative that grips resource-rich countries around the world.

For President Dos Santos it’s a foolproof way to extract money from his country, while keeping a putative arm’s-length distance away. If the 71-year-old president gets overthrown, he can reclaim the assets from his daughter. If he dies in power, she keeps the loot in the family. Isabel may decide, if she is generous, to share some of it with her seven known half-siblings. Or not. The siblings are known around Angola for despising one another.

Isabel dos Santos declined to speak with FORBES for this article. Her representatives failed to respond to detailed questions sent months ago but last week issued this statement: “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.” In turn, the spokesman accuses this article’s coauthor, an Angolan investigative journalist, of being an activist with a political agenda. The Angolan government jailed Marques de Morais in 1999 over a series of articles critical of the regime and has brought new criminal defamation charges against him over his 2011 book, Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola .

Finally, a representative of Mrs. Dos Santos said that any allegations of illegal wealth transfers between her and the government are “groundless and completely absurd.” That could well be. When your father runs the show, and can dictate which national assets are sold and at what price, what’s theft of public resources in one country can be rendered legal with a swipe of the pen.

President José Eduardo dos Santos could not be reached for comment. That is unfortunate, because the Dos Santoses, as Moco notes, have “some explaining to do.”

FOR THREE CENTURIES the Portuguese extracted wealth from this mineral-rich country on Africa’s southwestern coast. Almost immediately after Angola won independence in 1975, various internal factions began battling one another for the right to do the exact same thing. From this chaos, which lasted 27 years, Dos Santos, who had studied oil engineering in Soviet Azerbaijan and served as foreign minister upon independence, eventually emerged as president in 1979. He’s held on to power ever since, making him the planet’s third-longest-serving nonroyal head of state………..READ MORE

ADAPTED FROM FORBES

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