LUANDA: Angola’s billionaire former first daughter Isabel dos Santos has been charged with money laundering and mismanagement during her stewardship of state-owned oil firm Sonangol, as Luanda moves to try and bring her home to face trial for looting the country’s coffers. Documents leaked this week alleged the daughter of ex-president Jose Eduardo dos Santos plundered state revenues to build her fortune, estimated at $2.1 billion.
“Isabel dos Santos is accused of mismanagement and embezzlement of funds during her tenure at Sonangol and is thus charged in the first instance with the crimes of money laundering, influence peddling, harmful management … forgery of documents, among other economic crimes,” prosecutor general Helder Pitta Gros told a news conference late Wednesday.
Investigations into Isabel dos Santos’s 18-month tenure as Sonangol head from June 2016 were opened after her successor Carlos Saturnino raised the alarm about “irregular money transfers” and other dodgy procedures. Dos Santos is accused of using her father’s backing to steal money from the oil- and diamond-rich but poor southern African country and moving it abroad with the help of Western firms.
The “Luanda Leaks” scoop, published on Sunday by some of the world’s top media outlets, has put pressure on the government of Portugal, Angola’s former colonial ruler, and some major corporations to explain what they know and what they did. Dubbed “the princess” by Angolans, Isabel dos Santos was named Africa’s richest woman by Forbes in 2013. She stopped living in Angola after her father stepped down in 2017 for his anointed successor Joao Lourenco. Most of the ex-president’s family have moved abroad since he stepped down, and jet between homes in London, Dubai and Portugal.
Meanwhile, a Portuguese banker targeted in an investigation of dos Santos has been found dead in his Lisbon home after apparently committing suicide, police said yesterday. The body of Nuno Ribeiro da Cunha “was found last evening and all indications point to a suicide”, a Portuguese police spokesman told AFP. Da Cunha was cited in the “Luanda Leaks” documents. The Portuguese banker worked for Eurobic bank in which Isabel dos Santos is the main shareholder. According to Portuguese media reports, da Cunha was the head of private banking at Eurobic and the account manager of Isabel dos Santos.
All suspects living abroad
Gros said dos Santos was among five suspects, all of whom were currently residing abroad. “At the moment, the concern is to notify and get them to voluntarily come to face justice,” said Gros. Angola is still reeling from dos Santos’s kleptocratic rule during which key positions were awarded to his cronies and wealth amassed in the hands of a select few. Lourenco has vowed to crack down on corruption and launched a large-scale purge of the dos Santos administration. He removed Isabel dos Santos from her top job at Sonangol shortly after he came to power.
Prosecutors last month froze bank accounts and assets owned by Isabel dos Santos and her husband Sindika Dokolo as part of the probe. Anti-corruption campaign group Global Witness alleged hundreds of companies, many based in tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands, helped her “to become Africa’s richest woman while millions of Angolans live in extreme poverty”.
She has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and claims her family has been unfairly targeted for political reasons. “Isabel dos Santos never directly expressed interest in collaborating with the Angolan authorities,” said Gros, adding that nobody should be immune from facing justice. He has reportedly been working with his counterpart in Portugal on the case. – AFP