The Rise and Fall of Isabel dos Santos, once Africa’s richest woman.

According to Forbes magazine, she was once Africa’s richest woman, with a net worth of $3.5 billion. In a perfect illustration of how to rob a country, the daughter of Angola’s longtime former president became extremely wealthy. Her empire is now a skeleton of what it once was, and she was dropped from the magazine’s list in January 2021 after her assets in Angola, Portugal, and the Netherlands were frozen due to corruption allegations brought against her by her government. She now owes $340 million in debt to the Portuguese company PT Ventures.

To understand Isabel dos Santos’s rise and downfall, I have to first tell you about her father Jose Eduardo dos Santos who ruled Angola for nearly 40 years from 1979 – 25 September 2017.

Following the death of President Agostinho Neto in 1979, dos Santos took power. In an attempt to improve relations with the West, particularly with the United States, which had refused to recognize his government. He abandoned Marxist-Leninism in the early 1990s and ordered the withdrawal of Cuban troops stationed in the country in the late 1970s. The changes did not appease the opposition group UNITA, which increased its attacks. Dos Santos signed a peace agreement with UNITA and agreed to multiparty elections in 1991. However, after he defeated Savimbi in the polls in 1992, UNITA resumed the fighting, which lasted until Savimbi’s death in 2002. Dos Santos remained president into the 2000s because elections scheduled for 1997 had been postponed indefinitely due to the conflict.

Dos Santos announced in 2007 that parliamentary elections would be held in September 2008, followed by presidential elections in 2009. The MPLA won the 2008 parliamentary elections;   The presidential election scheduled for 2009 was postponed. The following year, a new constitution scrapped direct presidential election, instead requiring the president to be appointed by the leader of the party with the largest share of the vote in parliamentary elections. This meant that  Dos Santos would be president at least until the next round of parliamentary elections, which were scheduled for 2012. When the MPLA comfortably earned an overwhelming majority in parliament in the August 31, 2012 elections, Dos Santos was re-elected for another five years as president.

Dos Santos and his administration were criticized for being increasingly autocratic, as well as for Angola’s notorious corruption. Dos Santos is accused of enriching himself, his family, and close cronies at the expense of the rest of the country’s residents, many of whom were still living in extreme poverty.

THE RISE ISABEL DOS SANTOS: AFRICA’S RICHEST WOMAN

In 2020, the BBC reported on leaked documents revealing how she allegedly made her fortune by exploiting her own country and corruption.

When her father was president, she had access to lucrative deals involving land, oil, diamonds, and telecommunications.

The documents revealed how she and her husband were permitted to purchase valuable state assets in a series of suspicious deals.

In the early 90s, Isabel dos Santos began working as a project manager engineer for Urbana 2000, a subsidiary of Jembas Group that had won a contract to clean and disinfect the city,

She then established a trucking company. The widespread adoption of walkie-talkie technology paved the way for a subsequent venture into telecommunications. 

Isabel dos Santos began a series of business acquisitions in the early 2000s. She built an empire in Angola and Portugal that includes banking, diamonds, oil, telecoms, real estate, engineering, and supermarkets.

Some of dos Santos’s major holdings include.

  • Trans Africa Investment Services, a Gibraltar-based vehicle founded together with her mother for the diamond business
  • Unitel International Holdings B.V.: change of name of Kento and Jadeium, based in Amsterdam, company-vehicle for dos Santos’ investment in telecommunications
  • Santoro Finance: company-vehicle for dos Santos’ investment in Banco BPI based in Lisbon
  • Esperaza Holding B.V.: based in Amsterdam, energy, oil etc.
  • Condis: a retail business based in Luanda

Her father appointed her as chair of Sonangol, Angola’s state oil company, in June 2016. Being the head of the state oil company in Angola is “second only to the presidency… the most powerful position in the country.”

On January 19, 2020 the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released a detailed report on how dos Santos accumulated her riches over the years.   According to the report, she “earned a fortune at the expense of the Angolan people” based on evidence provided by corruption watchdog The Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa – The report was called  as Luanda Leaks.

THE FALL ISABEL DOS SANTOS: AFRICA’S RICHEST WOMAN

On August 23, 2017, Joao Lourenco was elected President of Angola, and he sacked Isabel dos Santos from Sonangol, the country’s state-owned oil company.

In the following months the new president Joao Lourenco decided to address corruption, which is a legacy of his predecessor, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who led the oil-rich Southern African country for 38 years.

On December 30, 2019, a court in Angola ordered the freezing of dos Santos’ personal bank accounts and those of her business partners. According to the Attorney General’s office, they struck deals with the Angolan state, causing the country to lose $1.14 billion.

On January 23, 2020, the Angolan attorney general met with his Portuguese counterpart to request assistance with the prosecution of Dos Santos.

Portugal has become the second country to impose a freeze on Dos Santos’ personal and corporate accounts.

Following asset freezes, Forbes removed Isabel dos Santos  from the billionaire ranks in January 2021.

In December 2021 Isabel dos Santos and there former generals were sanctioned by the US government for “significant corruption.” Dos Santos and members of her family are banned from entering the United States under the new restrictions.

The Angolan government announced that it is preparing a legal battle to confiscate dos Santos’ assets in Portugal. She is still being investigated in Portugal and has since assumed her official residence in the United Arab Emirates.

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