July 21, 2021

ANGOLA: Wow What A Read. How Africa’s Richest Woman Exploited Family Ties, Shell Companies And Inside Deals To Build An Empire. Check Out Everyone Involved In Corruption. Incredible Story.

International Consortium of Investigative Journalists
written by Sydney P. Freedberg, Scilla Alecci, Will Fitzgibbon, Douglas Dalby and Delphine Reuter
Sunday January 19, 2020

She spun a story the world wanted to believe: a self-made billionaire who had risen in a male-dominated business world in an African country ravaged by civil war and poverty.

In public appearances in the spring of 2017, Isabel dos Santos, then head of Angola’s giant state oil company, Sonangol Group, mingled with Hollywood legends on the French Riviera and charmed oil tycoons in Houston with tales of hard work and accomplishment. Wearing her trademark black blazer at the London Business School, the 44-year-old chairwoman told a packed audience that leaders should be chosen on their merits.

“I’ve been managing companies for a long time, starting them from small, building them up, going through every single stage of what it takes for a company to be successful,” she said.

Left unmentioned in London: That she had been installed in the top job at Sonangol by her father, Josรฉ Eduardo dos Santos, the longtime Angolan autocrat. That over the years he had awarded her companies public contracts, tax breaks, telecom licenses and diamond-mining rights. And that even as she spoke to the crowd of aspiring entrepreneurs, she was paving the way for one of her most brazen insider deals — the payment of tens of millions of dollars from the state oil monopoly to a company in Dubai controlled by her business partner.

Luanda Leaks, a new investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and 36 media partners, exposes two decades of unscrupulous deals that made dos Santos Africa’s wealthiest woman and left oil- and diamond-rich Angola one of the poorest countries on Earth.

Based on more than 715,000 confidential financial and business records and hundreds of interviews, Luanda Leaks offers a case study of a growing global problem: Thieving rulers, often called kleptocrats, and their family members and associates are moving ill-gotten public money to offshore secrecy jurisdictions, often with the help of prominent Western firms. From there, the money is used to buy up properties, businesses and other valuable assets, or it is simply hidden away, safe from tax authorities and criminal investigators.

“The movement of dirty money through shell companies into the international financial system to be laundered, recycled, and deployed for political influence is accelerating,” said Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. “It heightens the danger of political violence and human rights abuses.”

Public corruption drags down economies, erodes faith in democracy and diverts money that could otherwise be spent on hospitals, schools and roads. Transparency International rates Angola as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. The average life expectancy is just 60. About 5% of infants die before their first birthday.

The Luanda Leaks documents were provided to ICIJ by the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa, or PPLAAF, a Paris-based advocacy group. The trove contains emails, internal memos from dos Santos companies, contracts, consultant reports, tax returns, private audits and videos of business meetings. The documents, in Portuguese and English, date back to 1980, but mostly cover the last decade. They include descriptions of palatial homes in Lisbon and Monaco and a deluxe vacation featuring private aircraft and a speedboat. Emails show underlings fretting about risky bank loans and financial advisers fielding dos Santos’ requests to pay a bill from luxury fashion designer Valentino and open a new bank account offshore.

ICIJ found that dos Santos, her husband and their intermediaries built a business empire with more than 400 companies and subsidiaries in 41 countries, including at least 94 in secrecy jurisdictions like Malta, Mauritius and Hong Kong. Over the past decade, these companies got consulting jobs, loans, public works contracts and licenses worth billions of dollars from the Angolan government.

Dos Santos and her husband used their archipelago of shell companies to avoid scrutiny and invest in real estate, energy and media businesses. Documents also show businesses linked to the couple steering consulting fees, loans and contracts to shell companies they control in the British Virgin Islands, the Netherlands and Malta.

In one case identified by ICIJ, thousands of families were forcibly evicted from their Luanda homes on land that was part of a redevelopment project involving a dos Santos company.

They also secured large stakes in banks, allowing them to finance this empire even as other financial institutions backed away amid concerns about dos Santos’ ties to the Angolan state.

The family’s worsening reputation didn’t spook brand-name accountants and consultants, which continued to work for dos Santos-linked businesses, ICIJ found. Big companies and state-backed entities from China and the Netherlands continued to partner with the family’s private businesses.

Angolan government officials told ICIJ that they are investigating whether dos Santos and associates looted hundreds of millions of dollars from the state’s oil and diamond-trading companies. That includes a $38 million payment in November 2017 from Sonangol to a company in Dubai controlled by a dos Santos associate, a transfer ordered hours after Angola’s new president fired her from her job as head of the state oil company.

The officials also said that public contracts awarded by her father’s regime to her companies were inflated by more than $1 billion.

In December, two weeks after ICIJ questioned Angola’s government about dos Santos’ business dealings, an Angolan court froze her major assets, including banks, a telecom company and a brewery. The government is trying to recover $1.1 billion that it says is owed by dos Santos, her husband and a close associate of the couple.

Through their U.S. lawyers, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, dos Santos and her husband denied wrongdoing and said they did not profit from political connections.

Carter-Ruck, a UK law firm representing Isabel dos Santos, said the businesswoman denied all wrongdoing, including any allegations of looting, fraud, contract overcharging and other misconduct.

The law firm said in a 10-page response that dos Santos didn’t use offshore vehicles to avoid paying taxes. She denied any of her companies evicted people. Dos Santos and the owner of the Dubai consulting company said the Dubai payments were for legitimate services provided to the state oil company.

In recent interviews, dos Santos, whose fortune is estimated at about $2 billion, said the government is on a “witch hunt” against her family. She denied that contracts were steered to her or that she was shown favoritism when her father was president.

Shortly after the asset freeze, she posted a reassuring message on Twitter for her followers and employees. She condemned the government’s move as politically motivated.

Dos Santos declined ICIJ’s requests for an interview. In an interview with BBC News, which asked several questions on behalf of ICIJ, dos Santos called the inquiry a “political persecution.”

“My holdings are commercial,” she said. “There are no proceeds from contracts or public contracts, or money that has been deviated from public funds.”

Her husband, Sindika Dokolo, told Radio France Internationale, one of ICIJ’s partners in France, that the Angolan government is wrongfully targeting him and his wife.

“They want to blame us for all the corruption and bankruptcy in Angola,” Dokolo said. “We pay taxes in Europe, and we’re Angola’s biggest tax contributor. We’ve worked and invested a lot in this country, more than many others.”

Dos Santos’ father and Angola’s former president, Josรฉ Eduardo, didn’t respond to ICIJ’s requests for comment.

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UPDATE 7/21/21 at 11:26pm: Added info below. UPDATE 7/21/21 at 11:37pm: Added info below.

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