Isabel dos Santos’ Campaign, her Father, George Soros and Me

Isabel dos Santos Portuguese communication consultants, led by Luís Paixão Martins, have for several months been trying to wage a campaign against the author of this article. They have presented no evidence to disprove what I have revealed about the president’s daughter business dealings, particularly acts of corruption by her father.

Attempted defamation


Instead, so desperate are they to find a way of attacking me, the author of Maka Angola,  that they have tried to find impropriety in his former links to the NY-based Open Society Institute (OSI), funded by the billionaire philanthropist George Soros. The same ruse has already been attempted without success by the Angolan regime’s own propaganda machine. Nevertheless, the deviousness with which the Portuguese public relations consultant took up this theme is in itself revealing, though more for the crass propaganda campaign than by its content.

At the same time, the scheme offers an opportunity to look again at the ways in which the Dos Santos regime has  looked at neutralizing the author. Soros involvement in Angola, which is what we are concerned with here, is just one episode in this official obsession.

Moreover, new revelations on the web of corruption in business woven by the Dos Santos family, particularly by Isabel, will leave those involved ever weaker and more vulnerable in the eyes of the public, and will surely add to their desperation and that of their defenders. It will be interesting to observe in the future what uses of power and money, aside from recourse to brutal or covert violence, they will deploy in their defense.

The question of George Soros is simple. The regime led by Isabel dos Santos father has been the main beneficiary of his involvement. It is exactly because of this fine irony that it is worth writing about.

First, however, we need to explain to readers what it is that has confused Isabel dos Santos Portuguese agent. 


Proposal to Forbes

On 11 August 2013, Luís Paixão Martins declined to answer the questions put by me and by Forbes editor Kerry Dolan as part of the investigation into Isabel dos Santos that we were conducting for Forbes magazine. The first questions had been sent in April, as agreed to by Luís Paixão Martins Comunicação (LPMC).

“Surely if you really want our cooperation to accurately inform your readers and if your goal is accurately inform your readers, a publication like yours would work with a business journalist, or an economic expert with knowledge and experience of Angola and/or Portugal; their economy, markets and investments; someone  who would  provide you with unbiased, non-political and true information.   It’s not the case. You choose to work with a political activist. You choose not to work with someone independent and with a economic background.  I am happy to provide you with a number of contacts of independent economic/business journalists that work for well established publications, which specialize in economy and business in Angola, Portugal and Portuguese speaking countries.”  

This proposal, clearly, was greeted as offensive and ridiculous. The following day, when he had been advised once again that the article would be published anyway, Martins finally answered some questions, while at the same time repeating his earlier offer to Dolan:

“Any Portuguese journalist with experience in business can help you identify sources. Unfortunately, you have chosen to work with a political activist. You have chosen not to work with anyone with knowledge of economics. As I said before, I would be happy to give you some contacts of independent economic / business journalists who work for reputable publications that specialize in economics and business in Angola, Portugal and Portuguese-speaking countries.”

The way in which LPMC apparently has Portuguese journalists at its disposal to write about its clients says a lot about Portuguese media and local public opinion.

The investigative piece was published in Forbeson 3 September 2013, and has had over 395,000 online views. The article in Forbes was named a finalist for a Loeb Award, the most prestigious award for business and financial reporting] 

Meanwhile, Isabel dos Santos acquired the publication rights for Forbes in Portugal and in Portuguese-speaking African countries. 

However, Forbes later published a new investigation into how Isabel dos Santos acquired the Swiss jewellery business De Grisogono and came to control the Angolan diamond market by means of an illicit partnership with the state diamond marketing company, Sodiam S.A. All this happened through corrupt acts of her father, President José Eduardo dos Santos.

In the absence of any credible arguments to clear the name of Isabel dos Santos, their next plan was to dream up an international conspiracy, involving George Soros.

Let us now turn to the Soros case.  


The meeting


Back in 1997 I attended a dinner where George Soros was the guest of honor.  The almost forty other guests included VIPs from South Africa. After his speech, Soros said on the spur of the moment “I now call on my friend Rafael Marques”, and explained that I would share my ideas on Angola and on the role of civil society.

I declined to speak. It was not on the program, and I was not prepared for it. I had been invited to dinner, and felt honoured when I learnt that I had been seated at Soros’s table. That was the first time I had met him, and we talked for a while about general matters.

When Soros returned to the table unfazed by my refusal of his invitation, he said he had offered me a great opportunity but it was up to me alone to accept or refuse. I changed my mind. I went to the podium and argued that democracy works only when it is accompanied by education, starting with primary education. I expressed my disillusionment with the modus operandi of international organisations and the superficial nature of their programs supporting democracy and the struggle for human rights. I insisted on education. 


Appointment in education


Two months later I was surprised to receive a visit from Terrice Bassler, an education specialist at the Open Society Institute in  New York. The then deputy minister of education, Francisca do Espírito Santo, agreed to meet us and organised a visit to Bengo province, which included some senior officials of her ministry.

Prior to my meeting with Terrice Bassler, the Open Society Institute (OSI) had spent many months trying unsuccessfully to set itself up in Angola. Now, in less than two months, we set up Fundação Open Society (FOS) in the country, and had a pilot project for training primary teachers in Bengo and in the Cacuaco and Viana districts of Luanda. OSI made an initial grant of US$250,000, earmarked for education only, and asked me to be FOS representative in Angola for a few months until a director could be hired. I ended up staying for six years, with my contract being renewed each year. 

For more than a year, the office of this multi-million dollar organisation was my dining room, so as to minimize administrative costs.

By the time I left at the end of 2004, FOS in partnership with the Ministry of Education had trained more than 4,500 primary teachers, particularly in Bengo, Luanda and Kwanza Sul. It had held workshops to train trainers in Uige, Moxico and other provinces. At one point the annual budget was as much as US$500,000. Luísa Grilo, who was co-ordinator of OSI’s education project until 2004 went on to become national director of general education at the Education Ministry, a position that she still holds. 



When I was detained on October 16, 1999, for writing an article called “The Lipstick of Dictatorship”, there were calls from within the ministry and the MPLA to put an end to the project. These calls were presented as manifestations of loyalty to and solidarity with the president, who had ordered my detention because I called him a corrupt dictator. Others, however, had the decency to speak out in favour of the merits of the project and to detach it from my personal opinion. I had written “The Lipstick of Dictatorship” in response to insults from the ruling party parliamentarian João Melo. I had promoted an initiative calling for a ceasefire in the Angolan war, something that Melo called “heresy”.

The men who came to arrest me showed their loyalty to Isabel dos Santos’s father by pointing seven guns at me as I opened the door of my house. One pistol was pressed against my temple. I was imprisoned in sub-human conditions. It was during that period that I lived the reality of human rights abuses. Far from breaking me, it outraged me. I set about establishing a system to denounce the most serious cases that I encountered there.

While I was in detention George Soros personally took up the cause of trying to secure my freedom, quite aside from his network of foundations. Later I leant that he had telephoned two African leaders who had good relationships with Angola, as well as other dignitaries. Pressure came from various quarters. In Portugal, former president Mário Soares gave his unconditional support, and the Assembly of the Republic took up my case on the initiative of the Left Bloc.

There was also significant pressure from within Angola. The then chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Angola and São Tomé, Archbishop Zacarias Kamwenho, came to visit me in Viana jail, accompanied by other bishops. I can also reveal here publicly for the first time that President dos Santos himself took the initiative to send an emissary to the jail to find out about the state of my health. I had spent 14 days on a hunger strike.

When I left prison I had recorded cases even of forced labor in which several inmates had been made to work on the private premises of government officials. I exposed the case of a young man who had been in preventive detention for 15 years. Hundreds of people had to be freed because they had spent excessive periods of time in preventive detention. The prison was closed for reconstruction work shortly afterwards. I began to be called a human rights activist. I took the greatest pride in defending the rights of my fellow citizens, as well as in exposing those who were looting the country under the command of José Eduardo dos Santos. Institutionalized corruption in Angola constitutes a serious violation of citizens’ economic and social rights. 


Democracy and human rights

Fundação Open Society’s (FOS) programs for media, democracy and human rights had always taken second place to the education programs, but media coverage gave them a higher profile. During the years when I was in charge, education continued to have a budget higher than the other projects combined. The government itself was the main beneficiary of the organization’s funding.

Conferences always enjoyed live coverage on Rádio Ecclésia, which allowed burning social issues to be debated widely. The weekly paper Semanário Angolense, edited by Graça Campos, always published supplements with the proceedings of the conferences. MPLA leaders took part in these meetings. The paper also published the reports on human rights violations in Cabinda as supplements. 

George Soros and Isabel dos Santos’ father

When Isabel dos Santos public relations team tries to portray my association with George Soros in a negative light, they are masking the relevant facts about the regime’s own relationship with Soros.

This relationship began with a grand strategy devised and led by Carlos Feijó, who at the time was an adviser to the then chairman and CEO of the state oil company Sonangol, Manuel Vicente, and of the president of the Republic himself.

Feijó advised the president to build a relationship with Soros as a way of neutralizing me. It was assumed that without the Open Society Institute’s institutional and financial support, I would cease to be a concern for the president.

The president had learnt a lesson. The brutality of my detention and of my trial had served only to strengthen my convictions and to damage his image both in Angola and abroad.

According to Feijó’s thinking, I would become a victim simply of a financial decision by Soros, and not of the regime’s machinations. The plan included cutting me off from potential sources of support and of contacts abroad, such as western embassies and international NGOs with which I maintained good relations. At that time, a Portuguese ambassador went as far as calling a meeting with a well-known and influential figure within the MPLA with whom I had a good relationship. The ambassador asked that he should end his friendship with me, failing which he would cease to be invited to western embassies, would have difficulty obtaining visas and would come to be ostracized by the international community. The “sanctions” were agreed to. A secondary strategy involved isolating me internally, leaving me destitute without a way of making a living.  

Dos Santos approved the strategy.

Manuel Vicente and the then finance minister, José Pedro de Morais (no relation to the author), were in charge of the plan to develop a relationship with Soros, also helped by the Angolan ambassador to the United Nations, Ismael Martins.

Soros personally phoned me to tell me about how these people had initially contacted him. He told me plainly that they had asked for my dismissal in order to facilitate the expansion of his foundation in Angola and the development of joint projects around transparency and human rights. During one of these conversations the people who were tapping the phone cut the call off six times, after also making their voices heard in the conversation. Soros insisted that we continue and called me back each time the line was cut.

Meanwhile, the vice-president of OSI, Stewart Paperin, had already visited Angola on two occasions for meetings with the government, without my knowledge. These meetings resulted in the drafting of a memorandum of understanding between the Soros foundation, Sonangol and the Angolan government. 

The memorandum envisaged that OSI would provide the government and Sonangol with technical and financial assistance to put into place the agreed reforms. What was essential to the government, as always, was that the agreement included initiatives to improve the image of the government and of Sonangol to the world, so as to provide better access to international capital markets, etc.

The Voice of America quoted a source in the Angolan presidency as saying that I had been dismissed from OSI as part of the agreement reached with Soros. When I heard this news I was in Washington, where I had arrived to give a talk the previous day.

I went to New York to talk face-to-face with Soros, who invited me to have breakfast with him at his apartment. Stewart Paperin was also present. Soros was very clear about what had been negotiated and offered me US$500,000 so that the government’s strategy of isolating me would not leave me destitute. I promptly refused his offer. I did so just as I had refused President dos Santos’ offer in 2000 for his criminal complaint against me not to proceed to trial, in exchange for exile and riches.

I explained to Soros that the government would not keep its word. He replied that it was a risk worth taking.

Stewart Paperin then intervened, calling me “the bad guy” in the narrative. I said I was an obstacle to the Open Society Insitute’s growth and expansion in Angola. At that point I realized there was nothing more to discuss. Soros reproached Paperin for what he had said, then excused himself and we ended our breakfast.

As expected, the memorandum was never signed. However, the president’s men had another card up their sleeve: Dos Santos would receive Soros as his special guest at the MPLA Congress from 6 to 9 December 2003. In case needed, Manuel Vicente had the Sonangol executive jet ready to fly the billionaire from Cape Town to Luanda.

Among the various attempts to dissuade Soros from accepting the invitation, two senior MPLA officials and the current chairman of UNITA, Isaías Samakuva, separately contacted Soros to advise him to call off his imminent visit to Angola. It was in the interests both of influential sectors of the MPLA and of the opposition that FOS continue in its role as a catalyst for civil society by promoting space for debate so as to build a participatory democracy.

In the end, Soros trip did not go ahead.   Moreover, the president of his foundation, Aryeh Neier, visited Luanda to speak only to civil society, and expressed solidarity with me and confirmed that I would stay in my job. 

From that point on, the OSI strategy was conducted behind the scenes by the regional office, Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), based in South Africa.

In May 2004 FOS supported the colloquium “Angola at a Crossroads to the Future” at the Mário Soares Foundation, where the MPLA was represented. The secretary for political and electoral affairs in the MPLA Politburo, parliamentarian João Martins, was among the speakers. Clearly, José Eduardo dos Santos, as chairman of the MPLA, would have authorized his participation. The strategy against me had been revised. 

A month later, in June 2004, I resigned my post at the Fundação Open Society. I declined the offer of a seat on OSISA’s board, and of a scholarship that would have included the continuation of my salary, and other benefits. I believed that now the president’s strategy had succeeded, and I could finally dedicate myself to other tasks. OSISA asked me to stay on for six months in order to ensure a smooth handover.

At that point, I was engaged with a project to monitor human rights abuses in the Lundas’ diamond mining region. OSISA promptly cancelled the project so as to prevent the publication of the report, and left me liable for the costs already incurred. “Lundas: The Stones of Death”, which I co-wrote with the Portuguese lawyer  Rui Falcão de Campos, was eventually launched in Angola, Portugal and the United States. I did not complain about having paid some US$30,000 from my own pocket for the costs incurred. Angola is my country.

I thanked Fundação Open Society and, by extension, the Soros Network  in the acknowledgments in the book. Early in 2005 I arrived in Washington for the launch of the report at the Woodrow Wilson Center, without the money to pay for a hotel. The then vice-president of the Open Society Institute, Deborah Harding, undertook to support me personally and arranged for me to stay at the home of a friend of hers in the heart of Georgetown. Since then, a handful of friends has made all the difference to me.

Since that act of sabotage by the Soros foundation,  I have had no institutional contact of any sort (including no financial support) with George Soros network of foundations. 


The influence of oil, and propaganda – running on empty

During my investigations in 2009 I got a better idea of why Soros had maintained a relationship with the Angolan rulers. He had become the main shareholder in Cobalt International, a US oil company set up primarily with investments by Sonangol.

Cobalt formed a corrupt partnership with two Angolan front companies, Nazaki Oil and Gas and Alper Oil in prospecting blocs 9 and 21 off the Angolan shore. Nazaki is owned by the current vice-president Manuel Vicente and Generals Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias Kopelipa and Leopoldino Fragoso do Nascimento, the latter who acts as a figurehead for President dos Santos. Vicente is the ultimate beneficiary owner of Alper.

General Leopoldino Fragoso do Nascimento, who was the president’s head of communications, has stated on his website that he is the founder of the Angolan mobile phone service provider Unitel. I have documented evidence that the general is the chair of the board of Unitel, which is the largest private company in the country.

Luís Paixão Martins fell into his own trap when in a published article he tried to speculate on Soros’s supposed role in Unitel, and the billionaire’s unhappiness with it.

Isabel dos Santos’s spin doctor made up a story in which Soros conspires with me to prevent his client’s hostile bid to buy off the 25 percent stake Portugal Telecom (PT) has in Unitel. Luís Paixão Martins alleges that Soros is an investor in PT. The Angolan shareholders, who control 75 percent of the shares, and are led by Isabel dos Santos, want PT out the business, and have withheld payment of dividends for PT, for the past two years. The company has profits of over a billion dollars a year.

The president’s daughter used the same hostile strategy to expel Portuguese businessman and billionaire Américo Amorim, from a joint venture they had in the Angolan cement company Nova Cimangola. The readiness of Isabel dos Santos to drop her business partners once the ventures become sufficiently profitable has now been extended to the International Credit Bank (Banco BIC), in which she and Américo Amorim are equal partners with 25 percent each. Now, she wants his shares.

Are these also Soros and Rafael Marques conspiracies?

Luís Paixão Martins fell into his own trap when in a published  article he tried to speculate on Soros’s supposed role in Unitel, and his unhappiness with it.

In 2009 I published a detailed investigation on the triumvirate of Vicente, Kopelipa and Nascimento, titled “The Presidency of the Republic: The Epicentre of Corruption in Angola”.

In the article I revealed George Soros busines links with Angola’s rulers. The article gave rise to a US investigation into Cobalt’s alleged corrupt links with Angolan officials. Soros eventually sold his shares in the business in July 2010, quickly getting rid of his connections to the Angolan nomenklatura. He sold the shares for US$31 million, having purchased them for US$81 million.

The attempt to use my relationship with Soros to discredit me reminded me of an interview on
Radio LAC many years ago. Radio host José Rodrigues tried to grill me on the “Café da Manh㔠program, saying my friendship with former Portuguese presidente Mário Soares was unpatriotic. I responded that if that were the case, a far greater crime was being committed by the presidential advisors and other offiicals whose children were studying at the Soares family’s private college in Lisbon. He quickly called for a break in the interview so I could not refer to the subject again. In fact, I had nothing more to say; I would not reveal the identities of these government officials, and would rather let them give their children the best possible education.

Nevertheless, there is an explanation for Isabel dos Santos spin doctor’s attempt to defame me. The mediocrity of the president and his fawning elite only goes to show how, in Angola, people get ahead: those with individual conscience and dignity are excluded from his nasty schemes.

For years now, I have followed the plotting against me and my work. I have become aware of the paranoia that I provoke in the heart of the regime, and often wonder if I am really worth the amount of the resources that they mobilize against me. It won’t stop me from doing what I do. The surveillance to which I am subjected both in and outside Angola has been raised to an excessive level.

Moreover, Isabel dos Santos does not know what she is getting herself involved in. It is my belief that she will soon discover that her communications consultant is exposing her to some harsh winds. Indeed, they might both be better off if they hired a political activist to explain certain things.