Daughter of Angola's ex-president faces financial wrongdoing claims

How Angola’s Instagram ‘Princess’ made her $2.2BILLION fortune: Ex-president’s English-educated daughter became Africa’s richest woman ‘through corrupt oil, diamonds and telecoms deals’

  • Isabel dos Santos allegedly got access to deals when her father was president
  • It comes a month after Angola prosecutors froze her bank accounts and assets 
  • She ‘steered payments from state companies to firms in which she held stakes’
  • Ms dos Santos attended Cobham Hall school in Kent and King’s College London
  • Panorama: ‘The Corrupt Billionaire’ will air on BBC One at 8.30pm tonight 

The daughter of Angola’s ex-president became Africa’s richest woman after allegedly syphoning hundreds of millions of pounds of public money into offshore accounts.

Isabel dos Santos, who was educated in Kent and London, is said to have got access to deals involving diamonds, oil and telecoms when her father was president.

The claims come one month after Angola’s prosecutors froze the bank accounts and assets owned by Ms dos Santos, 46, and her Congolese husband Sindika Dokolo, 47.

Isabel Dos Santos, 46, with her Congolese husband Sindika Dokolo, 47, in Cannes in May 2014

Isabel dos Santos, pictured between Nicole Sherzinger and Paris Hilton in Cannes in May 2018

Ms dos Santos with Amber Heard (left) and Cara Delevingne (right) at Cannes in May 2014

The couple allegedly steered payments of more than $1billion (£800,000) from state companies Sonangol and Sodiam to firms in which they held stakes. 

One example cited by BBC News claimed that as she left Sonangol, she approved $58million (£45million) of payments to Dubai consultants Matter Business Solutions.

She claimed no financial interest in Matter, but among the 700,000 leaked papers are documents showing it was run by her business manager and owned by a friend.

However, the King’s College graduate has denied wrongdoing, saying her fortune is ‘built on my character, my intelligence, education, capacity for work, perseverance’.

Ms dos Santos, who owns a £13million home in Kensington, West London, has 190,000 Instagram followers and is regularly photographed with celebrities. 

Ms dos Santos with Lindsay Lohan and Harvey Weinstein at a party in Sardinia in August 2016

Ms dos Santos has a £13million home in Kensington, West London, and went to King’s College

Among the stars she has been seen with are Lindsay Lohan, Rita Ora, Nicole Scherzinger, Paris Hilton, Amber Heard, Cara Delevingne and Harvey Weinstein.

Ms dos Santos, who has a fortune worth £1.9billion, attended Cobham Hall girls’ boarding school in Kent and studied electrical engineering at King’s College.

The claims will be aired in a Panorama investigation on BBC One at 8.30pm tonight, following a probe by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. 

The New York-based group revealed the ‘Panama Papers’ tax haven scandal in 2016, and its latest series zeroing in on Ms dos Santos is called ‘Luanda Leaks’.

A team of 120 reporters in 20 countries looked at the finances of Ms dos Santos, the daughter of ex-president Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who served from 1979 to 2017.  

Ms dos Santos owns a £40million superyacht called Hayken, seen in Miami in October 2016

Ms dos Santos has posed with a host of celebrities, including Rita Ora in Cannes in May 2017

Former Angolan president Jose Eduardo dos Santos is pictured in Luanda in August 2012

But Ms dos Santos took to Twitter to refute the claims, launching a barrage of around 30 tweets in Portuguese and English, and accusing journalists of telling ‘lies’

The ICIJ team said it found a ‘broken international regulatory system that allows professional services firms to serve the powerful with almost no questions asked’.

It claimed ‘an army of Western financial firms, lawyers, accountants, government officials and management companies’ helped her hide assets from tax authorities.

But Ms dos Santos took to Twitter to refute the claims, launching a barrage of around 30 tweets in Portuguese and English, and accusing journalists of telling ‘lies’.

‘My fortune is built on my character, my intelligence, education, capacity for work, perseverance,’ she wrote.

She also blasted ‘the racism and prejudice’ of SIC-Expresso, a Portuguese TV station and newspaper, and member of the ICIJ, ‘that recall the colonial era when an African could never be considered equal to a European’. 

Prince Harry meets current Angolan president João Lourenço in Luanda in September 2019

Harry walks through a minefield in Dirico, Angola, during a visit to the country last September

Ms dos Santos’s lawyer dismissed the ICIJ findings as a ‘highly coordinated attack’ orchestrated by Angola’s current rulers.

How Jose Eduardo dos Santos ruled with an iron fist for 38 years 

Jose Eduardo dos Santos ruled the oil-rich southern African country of Angola with an iron fist for 38 years.

Top positions were awarded to his cronies and wealth accumulated in the hands of a select few during this time.

His time in charge was also widely associated with authoritarianism, corruption and nepotism. 

He left a legacy of poverty and nepotism after stepping down in 2017 from the top job in a country still recovering from a 1975-2002 civil war. 

Last month, prosecutors froze the bank accounts and holdings owned by his daughter Isabel and her husband.

But Mr dos Santos’s children claim they have been unfairly targeted by an anti-graft campaign by their father’s successor President Joao Lourenco.

His son Jose Filomeno went on trial last month for allegedly embezzling $500million (£385million) from Angola’s sovereign fund, which he oversaw from 2013 to 2018. Nicknamed ‘Zenu’, he faces up to 12 years in jail if found guilty.

Meanwhile, Zenu’s half-sister Welwitschia was suspended from Angola’s parliament in October for absenteeism and ‘unjust enrichment’.

Ms dos Santos herself told BBC Africa the file dump was part of a ‘witch hunt’ meant to discredit her and her father.

The ICIJ investigation said Western consulting firms were ‘apparently ignoring red flags’ while helping her stash away public assets.

‘Regulators around the globe have virtually ignored the key role Western professionals play in maintaining an offshore industry that drives money laundering and drains trillions from public coffers,’ the report said.

Its document trove included redacted letters allegedly showing how consultants sought out ways to open non-transparent bank accounts.

One confidential document allegedly drafted by consultants in September 2015 outlined a complex scheme for the oil company to move its money offshore. 

The former president’s daughter headed Angola’s national oil company Sonangol. Forbes magazine last year estimated her net worth at $2.2billion (£1.7billion).

The businesswoman is often called ‘The Princess’ by Angolans, while an investigation by Forbes in 2013 tagged her ‘the richest woman in Africa.’ 

Her father’s successor Joao Lourenco forced her out of the oil company after becoming president in 2017.

Ms dos Santos said on Wednesday that she would consider running for president in the next election in 2022.

Tom Burgis, who has written extensively about Angola in his 2015 book The Looting Machine, told MailOnline: ‘Angola is a country of great riches, full of oil and diamonds, whose people are almost all dirt poor.

Floodwaters are seen around houses in the Vila Nova neighbourhood of Luanda on January 10

Children sit and stand at the Boa Vista slum in the outskirts of Luanda in August 2012

‘That’s because its wealth is creamed off by a tiny ruling class of which Isabel dos Santos is a prominent member. And we should not forget the crucial role that major western companies play in the looting of Angola.

‘They have been happy to do business with a deeply corrupt regime to ensure their own profits, mainly from Angola’s oil. Meanwhile, those brave Angolans who try to stand up to the regime can expect imprisonment or worse.

‘What the Luanda Leaks show is that the regime’s attempts to use financial subterfuge to keep its self-enrichment secret may finally be unravelling.

‘But Isabel dos Santos is not the only one who has benefitted. Many others deserve similar scrutiny.’

Panorama: ‘The Corrupt Billionaire’ will air on BBC One at 8.30pm tonight 

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