A vast investigation led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and 37 media partners worldwide, suggests that Isabel dos Santos, Africa’s wealthiest woman, built up her $2.2bn fortune through exploiting her home country of Angola.
Earlier this month, Angola’s president Joao Lourenço, who took office in 2017, froze the assets and bank accounts of Dos Santos and her husband, the Congolese art collector Sindika Dokolo, who has campaigned to repatriate African art to the continent from Western collections.
The so-called Luanda Leaks investigation claims to reveal how “two decades of unscrupulous deals made Isabel dos Santos Africa’s wealthiest woman and left oil- and diamond-rich Angola one of the poorest countries on Earth”. Baku-born Dos Santos runs a huge business empire with large stakes in Angolan companies across multiple sectors such as banking, telecoms and supermarkets.
The investigation, led by the ICIJ, suggests Dos Santos “benefitted from extraordinary opportunities afforded to her by the government of her father, José Eduardo dos Santos, before he stood down as president [of Angola] in September 2017”. The documents that form the basis of Luanda Leaks came to ICIJ journalists from the Paris-based advocacy group Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa.
According to the ICIJ, Luanda Leaks is comprised of “more than 715,000 documents, including emails, contracts, spreadsheets, audits, incorporation papers, organisational charts, board of directors meeting minutes and videos, loan agreements, deeds, public contracts, invoices, tax advice and tax returns”.
“By her early 30s, Dos Santos owned luxury apartments in London and Lisbon worth millions. She had a taste for things Western: art shows in Miami, Dolce & Gabbana fashions, weekends in Paris,” says the ICIJ. The couple own three properties in Kensington, London, worth around £24m.
Dokolo is a major collector of contemporary African art and owns around 3,000 works by artists such as William Kentridge and Zanele Muholi of South Africa; Barthelemy Toguo (Cameroon); Kudzanai Chiurai (Zimbabwe), and Edson Chagas (Angola), among many others. He told Radio France Internationale, one of ICIJ’s partners in France, that the Angolan government is wrongfully targeting him and his wife.
Dos Santos denies that her fortune is the result of nepotism and corruption. In an interview with BBC News and a letter from her lawyers, she denied the suggestion that she owed her business success to support from her father, a former president of Angola, and said corruption accusations were intended to smear her reputation. Her lawyers said: “It is obvious that our client is the subject of a highly coordinated attack on both her reputation and business, an attack which originates from the Angolan authorities.”