Isabel dos Santos

Isabel dos Santos


Isabel dos Santos, born April 20, 1973 in Baku, SSR Azerbaijan, USSR2, is an Angolan businesswoman and the daughter of the former President of the Republic of Angola, José Eduardo dos Santos. According to Forbes magazine, her fortune in January 2020 stands at $ 2.1 billion3,4, making her the first African female billionaire in dollars, as well as the richest woman in Africa. According to her detractors, she derives her fortune from the nepotism system set up by her father during his presidency, from 1979 to 20175. Several surveys are aimed at the conditions for obtaining this fortune.

Family and education

Isabel dos Santos is the eldest daughter of José Eduardo dos Santos, President of the Republic of Angola from 1979 to 2017, and his first wife, Tatiana Kukanova, of Russian origin. In London, where her mother now lives, she studied electrical engineering and business administration. She also met her husband Sindika Dokolo, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the son of a Congolese millionaire and his Danish wife. They got married in 2002 in Luanda. The wedding, a four million dollar celebration with 1,000 people11, was one of the most lavish weddings in the country’s history. The witness to the wedding was Angola’s former petroleum minister, Desidério Costa.

For the past 20 years, she has been a manager and held senior management positions in companies listed on European stock exchanges. In June 2016, Isabel dos Santos was appointed – by her father – president of Sonangol, the Angolan national hydrocarbons company.

In March 2017, on the sidelines of the CERAWeek13 International Energy Conference in Houston, Isabel dos Santos announced that Sonangol had already reduced its logistics costs by 50% between 2015 and 2017 as part of the restructuring program implemented in the company.

Still on the sidelines of this meeting, Isabel dos Santos revealed that Sonangol’s vision is to “create the new generation of NOC (national oil companies)”.

According to the Angolan press, José Eduardo dos Santos, however, decided, in the face of negative reactions from many Angolans, to withdraw her from this post soon16. However, in an interview with Reuters at the CERAWeek energy conference, Isabel dos Santos guaranteed that her position and Sonangol’s board will remain in place, saying: “We are not part of the government. We have a clear mandate that has been given to the company and we are going to fulfill the mandate ”.

Commercial activities

Isabel dos Santos is described by the Portuguese newspaper Público as “a good businesswoman, extremely intelligent and dynamic, who is also professional and sympathetic19. “The Financial Times wrote in a March 2013 interview that” Even some critics recognize Isabel dos Santos’ independent talent as a businesswoman. In the same interview, Isabel dos Santos says that she is a businesswoman, not a politician. At the age of 24, Isabel dos Santos went into business using her father’s influence. She started her activities in Luanda in the 1990s, and worked as a project engineer in Urbana 2000, a company that won the contract for the cleaning and disinfection of the city3. In 1997, at the age of 24, she opened the Miami Beach Club on the island of Luanda, one of the first nightclubs in the Angolan capital.

Isabel dos Santos quickly became a key figure in the management of family assets by creating several holding companies to acquire the ownership and participation of certain companies in Angola and abroad, in particular in Portugal24.

In 2012, Isabel dos Santos went to Morocco to make several investments in the Cherifian kingdom, a motivation hampered by “powerful Moroccan businessmen” who viewed with a dim view the arrival of a controversial personality in the world. Moroccan affairs.

In November 2015, the BBC elected Isabel dos Santos as one of the 100 most influential women in the world26. As part of the BBC 100 Women series, which chooses, each year, women who have stood out in their field27, Isabel dos Santos was chosen to join the list because of her leading role in the economy and the development of the African continent.

Investments in Portugal

Since 2008, she has interests in telecommunications, media, retail and the energy industry, both in Angola and in Portugal. In addition to her commercial interest in oil and diamonds, Isabel dos Santos also owns stakes in the Angolan cement company Nova Cimangola31, a company of which her husband is a member of the board of directors.

Through the holding Unitel International Holdings BV33, Isabel dos Santos is the majority shareholder of ZON Multimedia34. It also holds stakes in Banco Português de Investimento. Isabel dos Santos owns shares in Galp Energia jointly with the oil company Sonangol, through their joint holding under European legislation, based in Holland, called Esperanza Holding35. Isabel dos Santos is one of the founders and member of the board of directors of Banco BIC Português36, which recently acquired Banco Português de Negócios, a nationalized bank3.

Investments made by Isabel dos Santos in Portugal in listed companies are subject to official control by the Securities Market Commission37, the Portuguese regulator of financial markets. On November 27, 2012, she joined, with non-executive functions, the board of directors of ZON Multimedia38 On December 14, 2012, Isabel dos Santos announced the invitation extended to the shareholders of ZON Multimedia for the merger with Sonaecom by incorporation, giving birth to a new operator33. After the green light from the competition authority, the merger of the two companies was formalized on August 27, 2013, with the transfer to ZON Optimus. With this transfer of shareholdings, Sonaecom and Isabel dos Santos now hold more than 50% of the new company NOS since May 2014, resulting from the merger. At that time, Isabel dos Santos announced a new corporate strategy with a multi-market vision39. On October 1, 2013, Isabel dos Santos participated in the first general assembly of Zon Optimus.

The starting point, however, was the creation of Unitel. The development of a walkie-talkie system paved the way for its foray into telecoms and, after a competitive bidding process deemed fair, it created the largest mobile operator in Angola, in partnership with Portugal Telecom, Sonangol and Vidatel. Unitel International, an investment platform of Unitel in which Portugal Telecom does not have a presence, acquired the operator T +, in Cape Verde, and obtained the license to be the second telecommunications operator in Sao Tome- and-Principe20,21,41. By virtue of this investment Isabel dos Santos announced during a visit to Sao Tome and Principe that Unitel will invest in education in the country to train engineers, managers and other technicians and also to focus on job creation42.

In an interview during the New York Forum Africa, held in June 2013 in Libreville, Gabon, Isabel dos Santos said that the future of telecommunications in Africa is beyond mobile phones and should focus on high capacity and broadband connectivity to connect the African continent.

The bank that Isabel dos Santos owns at 19%, the People’s Investment Bank, is on the verge of obtaining a rescue plan of 1.5 billion euros from the Portuguese taxpayer.

Investments in Angola

La Condis, which Isabel dos Santos controls at 51%, signed a partnership with the Portuguese group Sonae in April 2011, for the development and operation of a retail business in Angola. They launched a Continente supermarket chain in Angola in 2013 as in Portugal46. Its activities also cover the banking sectors, with the Development Bank of Angola, and telecommunications, with Unitel47.

Isabel dos Santos is the president of the Angolan Red Cross.

In June 2016, her father José Eduardo dos Santos, in his capacity as president of Angola, appointed her president of Sonangol, the Angolan national hydrocarbons company12, but she was dismissed on November 15, 2017 by the new Angolan president João. Lourenço.

In September 2017, President dos Santos granted the port concession for Barra do Dande, at the mouth of the Dande, to Atlantic Ventures, a company in which Isabel dos Santos is a shareholder. In June 2018, João Lourenço canceled the decree of his predecessor. Isabel dos Santos initiates several lawsuits and claims 850 million dollars in compensation, but the international arbitration tribunals declare themselves incompetent49.

In August 2020, dos Santos resigned from Unitel’s board of directors and denounced a “climate of permanent conflict” within the board. She still owns 25% of the business.


Holdings created by Isabel dos Santos in recent years51:

  • Unitel International Holdings BV (change of name of Kento and Jadeium, based in Amsterdam, “umbrella” of its investments in ZON Multimedia);
  • Santoro Finance (based in Lisbon, banks, etc.);
  • Esperanza (based in Amsterdam, energy, oil, etc.);
  • Condis (based in Luanda, retail);
  • Ciminvest (Isabel dos Santos is an investor in Ciminvest SA which has a stake in the Angolan cement company Nova Cimangola)

Criticism, corruption charges and trials

Isabel dos Santos has said she has no interest in Portuguese or Angolan media, but her growing grip on the communications sector in Portugal has been viewed with concern by several media outlets, with several newspapers publicly expressing their dissatisfaction with the transactions made. in 2012. Some editorials denounce a monopolistic aim in certain sectors of the media industry.

Isabel dos Santos, one of the richest women entrepreneurs in Africa, is expanding its activities towards Europe, without diversifying the industries it serves54. She was also accused of political bias and insider trading via contacts in Portugal54 where she is said to have a strategy of entry into the Portuguese economy. From 2009 to 2012, its shares increased exponentially in communication and financial system sectors which are also its investment priorities for its own companies in Angola and abroad. The concern of Portuguese economic agents can be justified by the recent wave of purchases.

On August 20, 2013, Isabel dos Santos participated in the BRICS Business Council in Johannesburg, where entrepreneurs and investors from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa and other African countries sought to increase ties between the BRICS and Africa in terms of trade, industrialization and investment. There, the President of the African Development Bank, Donald Kaberuka, congratulated Isabel dos Santos for her exemplary role in the development of African economies.

Shortly after his accession to power, the new Angolan President João Lourenço attacked the nepotism put in place by his predecessor: he dismissed Isabel dos Santos de Sonangol in November 2017, then Sindika Dokolo, Eduardo’s son-in-law, who was involved in the diamond trade and finally Jose Filomeno, Eduardo’s son, of the presidency of the Angolan sovereign wealth fund in January 2018. Despite these dismissals, the dos Santos family still controls many parts of the Angolan economy.

In December 2017, after Isabel Dos Santos’ successor at Sonagol discovered that she had ordered (after leaving the company), a transfer (in millions) from the Angolan oil company to a company in Dubai via the EuroBic bank , Sonangol opens an investigation into possible embezzlement (up to several million euros) by Isabel dos Santos.

In March 2018, the Angolan justice opened an investigation into a transfer of 28 million euros made by Sonangol then headed by Isabel dos Santos60,61.

On December 30, 2019, as part of another embezzlement investigation in Angola involving several hundred million euros, her bank accounts in Angola were seized and the assets of the companies she owned were frozen. But the majority of its heritage is outside the country.

In January 2020, the former MEP from Portugal Ana Gomes lodged a complaint against Isabel dos Santos for money laundering (up to 100 million euros). In response, Isabel dos Santos lodged a libel complaint against Gomes. Dos Santos then left Portugal for Dubai.

On January 19, 2020, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists publishes under the title Luanda Leaks63 a detailed report on how dos Santos amassed his wealth; and how she “made a fortune to the detriment of the Angolan people” 64. This file was based on approximately 715,000 documents received by the consortium, detailing the practices, participations and financial transactions that allowed Isabel dos Santos and her husband (Sindika Dokolo) to divert a large amount of public money from the Angola to tax havens.
Three days later (on the night of January 22) Nuno Ribeiro da Cunha (45 years old, the personal wealth manager of Isabel dos Santos and also director of the private bank EuroBic, of which 42% of the shares were acquired by Isabel Dos Santos) is found dead in the garage of his house in Lisbon65. This death comes as the Attorney General of Angola (Hélder Pitta Grós) came to Lisbon to meet his Portuguese counterpart, Lucília Gago, after announcing the accusation against Isabel Dos Santos of crimes of corruption and illicit enrichment65.

As part of the Angolan investigation into the misappropriation of funds at Sonangol, in February 2020, the Portuguese justice acceded to the request of the Angolan justice and freezes the assets of Isabel dos Santos in Portugal.

Angolan justice responds to Isabel dos Santos

The Angolan Attorney General’s office responded to Isabel dos Santos. He is not giving up on his accusations. The daughter of former President Jose Eduardo dos Santos is accused of “siphoning off the Angolan economy”.

The office had promised an answer to Isabel dos Santos’ accusations on Tuesday (12.05). She arrived quickly this Wednesday.

And if justice speaks of an ongoing investigation, it remains upright in its boots and does not withdraw its charges against the Angolan businesswoman.

What does Isabel dos Santos say?

This Tuesday (12.05), the billionaire, daughter of the nearly 40-year-old former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos (between 1979-2017), affirmed that, to confiscate part of his assets in Angola and Portugal, justice is would be based on a false document. A fake passport more precisely, which would not even be signed by his hand, but that of Bruce Lee, director and kung fu actor in the 70s.

It sounds surreal, but Isabel dos Santos posted a photo of the said passport on Twitter. Photo where it also highlights an incorrect date of birth and an incorrect passport number.

“In view of this falsified evidence, it is now clear that the Angolan state (…) has fabricated a case aimed at obtaining an unfair and illegal decision against me,” the businesswoman wrote on Twitter.

How does justice react?

From Tuesday, the Luanda prosecutor’s office evoked “a joke”. He reacted in more detail on Wednesday. “The authenticity of the document is under investigation,” said the attorney general’s office. But the charges stand and the office ensures that other documents have been taken into account for the seizure of the assets.

Call me back… What is Isabel dos Santos accused of?

The Dos Santos affair or affairs erupted and gained momentum after the change in Angolan power between José Eduardo dos Santos and João Lourenço. The current head of state has made the fight against corruption one of his workhorses.

Today Isabel dos Santos is accused, among other things, of fraud, embezzlement and money laundering. The Angolan and Portuguese courts have ordered the freezing of its bank accounts and the seizure of some of its assets in the two countries.

Sindika Dokolo, the husband of Isabel dos Santos also implicated
Sindika Dokolo, the husband of Isabel dos Santos also implicated

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists also accuses Isabel dos Santos of having “siphoned off the Angolan economy”.

These are the famous surveys, we have already told you about, the Luanda Leaks, published at the beginning of the year. Complex investigations: we are talking about financial arrangements, money laundering, hidden accounts

Today, in Angola alone, justice has more than a billion dollars. The fortune of one considered the richest woman in Africa (by the American magazine Forbes) is estimated at more than two billion dollars.

This Wednesday, contacted by the DW, the husband of Isabel dos Santos also implicated, refuses to speak for the moment.

Isabel dos Santos’s communications PR agency also did not respond to our request for an interview as of this writing.

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