- The richest woman in Africa is Isabel Dos Santos, eldest child of Angola’s former President José Eduardo dos Santos , who ruled the country from 1979 to 2017.
- According to Forbes she is worth $1.7 Billion
There is wealth in Africa but it is located in the hands of a very few. The financial situation in Nigeria is almost the same like other parts of the continent. Where corruption is one of the main tools of making money at the expense of the masses.
When we measure the richest people in the world. The whole idea is to celebrate hard work and success as a result of either the growth of a business empire or the financial value of talent or some kind of personal craft.
Unlike the richest woman in Nigeria whose success is a story of business acumen. That of the richest woman on the continent is one that is a seed watered by corruption and abuse of governmental privileges. That is if we are to follow the path paved by her accusers.
But that is not where our article must begin. We must go back a bit, before the accusations of national theft dented the image of the daughter of the former President of Angola.
Who Is The Richest Woman In Africa?
The richest woman in Africa is Isabel Dos Santos. She is the eldest child of Angola’s former President José Eduardo dos Santos , who ruled the country from 1979 to 2017. And her Father’s hold on the Nations resources is said to be the origin of the powerful financial house Isabel would later become.
Returning from London (she lived with her mother, Tatiana Kukanova) where she studied electrical engineering at King’s College in London and where she also met her husband Sindika Dokolo. Her foray into business started with Urbana 2000, a subsidiary of Jembas Group, that had been awarded a contract to clean and disinfect the city. Where she worked as the as a project manager . 1
Her first business venture was the opening of the Miami Beach Club which is still profitable today as it was in the past.It is considered one of the first night clubs and beach restaurants on the Luanda Island.
Isabel dos Santos is the founder of “Santoro Finance” in Lisbon, Portugal. With investments in the BPI Bank (Banco Portuguese de Investimento) – she is a founding member of the Bank. She also controls the company “Esperanza” (Amsterdam) with an interest in energy and petrol sector
She has shares in the Angolan distribution company “Condis” (51%) and “Nova Cimangola” (Cements). Trough the “Jadeium” society Isabel dos Santos owns 4.9% of “Telefonica”. 2
All of which fall under the Netherlands-based Unitel International Holdings BV that is controlled by her. She is member of the board of Angolan bank in Lisbon, Banco BIC Português. 3
The richest woman in Africa also have a major stake in her country’s state oil company Sonangol. 4 A feat that is not unconnected to the fact that her father the then President in 2016 made Isabel the chairwoman of the state oil company. 5
In January 2017 Unitel, led by dos Santos, officialized the purchase of 2% of Banco Fomento de Angola (BFA) from BPI for 28 million euros, controlling 51.9% of the bank’s capital. In that same year she gave a sell order of the 18.5% holding she had on BPI during CaixaBank’s takeover bid of 1.134 euros per share. Making 80 millioneuros from the transaction. 6
She is also into the telecommunication business. The telecommunication firm Unitel which she created in partnership with Portugal Telecom signed a contract on Wednesday to obtain a license as the second GSM Telecommunications operator (2G and 3G) in São Tomé and Príncipein 2013. 7
Corruption Allegations Against Isabel Dos Santos
The corruption allegation against the richest woman in Africa is coming from more than 120 journalists from the ICIJ ( International Consortium of Investigative Journalists) and 36 media organizations in 20 countries who pursued leads on more than 715,000 documents that provide a window into the inner workings of dos Santos companies. They traveled to Angola, interviewed dozens of people, including former dos Santos employees and financial experts, and they pored over hundreds of pages of additional documents, including confidential audits, ethics codes, real estate records and invoices from the Angolan state oil company. An investigative research that lasted for over 8 months.
The documents are said to include confidential emails, contracts, spreadsheets, ledgers, audits, incorporation papers, organizational charts, lists of clients with overdue payments for jewels, board of directors meeting minutes and videos, bank loan and other loan agreements, deeds, public contracts, government advisories, invoices, tax advice and tax returns. Together, they show how dos Santos and her husband, Sindika Dokolo, exploited weak or nonexistent regulations to enlarge their fortune and shield their assets from tax authorities and others, with the support of elite, mostly Western advisers.
This journalistic investigation is what is now referred to as the Luanda Leaks. Which among many others, reveal the following:
- Two decades of insider deals that made dos Santos Africa’s wealthiest woman and left oil- and diamond-rich Angola one of the poorest countries on Earth.
- A web of more than 400 companies and subsidiaries in 41 countries linked to dos Santos or her husband, Sindika Dokolo, including 94 in secrecy jurisdictions like Malta, Mauritius and Hong Kong.
- That a cadre of Western business advisors, including name-brand accountancies, consultants and lawyers, moved money, set up companies, audited accounts, suggested ways to avoid taxes and turned a blind eye to red flags that experts say should have raised serious concern.
- How two firms, PwC and Boston Consulting Group, together earned more than $5.6 million from 2010 to 2017 for services provided to dos Santos and Dokolo companies.
And it shows how Isabel dos Santos:
- Bought banks even as other financial institutions and insurers refused to do business with her because of concerns about the source of her fortune.
- Enticed Western governments and businesses to plow money into her ventures.
- Pushed a redevelopment project that led to the forced evictions of thousands of poor Angolans from their beachside homes.
- Directed hundreds of millions of loans and contracts to her companies, or those linked to her. 8
According to reports her father did more for her financial empire than just making her head of the nations oil company. It is said that her father allegedly over the years had awarded her companies public contracts, tax breaks, telecom licenses and diamond-mining rights.
Investigative documents show 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. Linking the couple steering consulting fees, loans and contracts to shell companies they control in the British Virgin Islands, the Netherlands and Malta.
The documents also proved that the couple were able secure 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.
For instance, a transfer ( a $38 million payment in November 2017 from Sonangol to a company in Dubai controlled by a dos Santos associate ) was ordered hours after Angola’s new president fired her from her job as head of the state oil company. A transfer that Dos Santos and the owner of the Dubai consulting company said were for legitimate services provided to the state oil company.
Officials also said that public contracts awarded by her father’s regime to her companies were inflated by more than $1 billion.9
According to the Luanda Leaks the richest woman in Africa made her fortune by taking a cut of Angola’s wealth, often courtesy of government decrees signed by her father. She also benefited from insider deals, preferential loans and contracts fueled by public money.
Another biting allegation against Isabel Dos Santos is hinged on the forced evacuation that happened June 2013, which has been described as sudden, and brutal. “They kept us for seven days in front of our ruined houses, in the open air, without food or water,” said Talitha Miguel, a 41-year-old former schoolteacher.
The sudden and forceful evacuation was carried out for the benefit of a business consortium led by Isabel dos Santos, for a coastal road and luxury hotel to serve the elite of one of Africa’s fastest-growing cities.
Known as the Areia Branca evictions, Isabel Dos Santos company received presidential approval to demolish the area as well as manage a project which is a proposed $1.3 billion urban redevelopment plan. 10
You can go ahead and read the many documents that prompted the investigation over here.
Current Charges Against The Richest Woman In Africa
According to the attorney general of Angola, Isabel Dos Santos is currently facing fraud charges. She is being accused of mismanagement and embezzlement of public funds during an 18-month stint as head of Sonangol, the state oil company.
“Isabel dos Santos … is thus charged in the first instance with the crimes of money laundering, influence peddling … forgery of documents, among other financial crimes,” attorney general Helder Pitta Gros told a news conference. 11
All of which she has denied through a statement released by a London-based public relations consulting firm. “I have always operated within the law and all my commercial transactions have been approved by lawyers, banks, auditors and regulators,” the statement said.
Reacting to the Luanda Leaks documents, the Portuguese Securities Market Commission, announced that it had opened inquiries into two companies in which dos Santos holds stakes, oil company Galp Energia and telecommunications firm NOS, as well as into unnamed auditing firms.
Strange enough, the same day the attorney general filed the fraud charges, Isabel dos Santos was reported selling her shareholding in her Portuguese bank Eurobic. According to statement from the bank, the process for the sale of the 42.5% stake had already started, and that its non-executive directors who worked with dos Santos’ companies had already resigned. 12
It has been reported that Portugal will likely freeze proceeds from the expected sale of Isabel dos Santos’ 42.5% stake in EuroBic, worth around $200 million, the country’s central bank governor Carlos Costa told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday.
“The judicial authorities will want to preserve the value associated with this deal. This may not mean, and I don’t think it will, [mean] blocking the transaction. It will mean safeguarding the proceeds of the transaction,” Costa said.
Costa said dos Santos would not be able to transfer any proceeds from the deal. The leader of the parliament’s Left Bloc alliance, Catarina Martins, has called on authorities to halt the sale, describing dos Santos’ assets as the “money of a kleptocracy.”
Portugal’s so-called ‘super judge’ Carlos Alexandre has ordered the seizure of all Angolan billionaire businesswoman Isabel dos Santos’ assets in the country, including lucrative stakes in various companies and luxury properties.
According to the order, any dividend proceeds for dos Santos’ shareholding will be deposited in the country’s central bank pending the outcome of judicial proceedings in Luanda.
She has denounced the “preventive seizure” of her $442 million stake in the $1.7 billion listed Portuguese telecommunications company NOS as “clearly abusive” and “excessive.”
“Such request from the Angolan justice is clearly abusive, since it is supposed to aim to protect an alleged credit right of the Angolan State, which has not yet been proven, and claimed from the shareholder of the companies UIH and KENTO”, underlined “When, simultaneously in Angola assets held for the same purpose, since December 2019, and by order of the Court of Luanda, with values and shareholdings in companies, with a value well above 2 billion euros ”.
“In addition to there being an excess of assets seized in Angola, the Angolan authorities are still coming to Portugal to seize what is no longer legally justified, and this seizure in Portugal is excessive because it covers more assets than would be sufficient for the normal security of the alleged credit,” the statement from Kento Holding Ltd and Unitel International Holdings BV said on behalf of Isabel Dos Santos and her husband.
Curiously, A banker (Nuno Ribeiro da Cunha) implicated by Angolan authorities in the case against dos Santos was found dead in Lisbon. He was responsible for managing the account of the Angolan oil firm Sonangol, previously chaired by dos Santos, at Eurobic, and those of other companies linked to her.
Her successor at Sonangol, Carlos Saturnino, also accused her of siphoning more than $130 million to consultants and associate companies during her tenure, from June 2016 to November 2017.
Cape Verde’s finance minister reacting to all the serious allegations against Isabel, also ordered an immediate investigation into how a bank owned by her was granted a licence to operate in his island nation. 13
The Angolan government froze dos Santos and her husband’s assets claiming they owe the state more than $1 billion.
Despite the fraud charges and documents pointing to her involvement in all kind of shady deals, Isabel Dos Santos remains the richest woman in Africa. According to Forbes she is currently worth $1.7 billion despite all the frozen assets and financial charges against her.