Princess Isabel dos Santos and the Looting of Angola

Angolan billionaire Isabel dos Santos recently gave an interview to the BBC to talk about some of the challenges Angolans face. The Princess, as she as referred to in Angola, is one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in the world, according to BBC. She said one of the main challenges that Angola faces is educating its people. President José Eduardo dos Santos’ daughter came across as being quite well-informed and pleasant: the beautiful face of the dictatorship.

I do not doubt Isabel’s intelligence; however, I am not taken in for minute with this fairytale they are trying to impose on us. What is behind the success of this daughter of Angola’s almost life-President?

There is this myth that her fortune can be traced to when, as a a six-year old child, she started selling eggs. The business, goes the myth, apparently grew from there. During a case in which diamond dealer Arkady Gaydamak was suing his competitor Lev Leviev, in the Summer of 2012 in London, Gaydamak told Judge George Voss far more believable causes behind the fortune. Among other things, Gaydamak stressed that in the 1990s, when there a need to control the sale of diamonds to finance the war, several companies emerged in which Isabel was prominent. That was how Tatiana Kukanova, her mother and former wife of José Eduardo dos Santos, came to have a 25 percent share in a company that would have the monopoly in the purchase (and subsequent selling) of Angolan diamonds as stated in the presidential decree of 31 Janurary 2000. This company was ASCORP and the other which had 25 percent was “TAIS” (short for Tatiana and Isabel). As far as I know from the trial, these affirmations were never thoroughly challenged.

Therefore, Isabel’s fortune has nothing to do with a dedicated sale of eggs; it has, among other issues, to do with being given an illegal monopoly for the purchase and sale of diamonds which, legally, belong to the state and could only have been sold with the authorization of Endiama.

Furthermore, the now famous report in Forbes magazine in 2013 was able to quantify Isabel’s fortune but could not establish its origin. Some could say that this does not mean much, and that it is just a knee-jerk negative reaction, since the source of the fortune is of nobody’s concern.

But legally, and if Angola were a functioning democracy, this ought not to have been the case. It is crucial that the source of Isabel dos Santos’ fortune be explained in clear terms. This is an issue that touches the very political legitimacy of the president. We are not dealing with a common citizen who made it rich by a few cunning strategies, and nor with  a 19th Century US “robber baron.”

Legally, we are talking about the daughter of a president of a country without adequate budgetary and financial controls. This is why according to the inter-governmental Financial Task Force, which is working on setting rules for international financial transactions, Isabel dos Santos is a Politically Exposed Person. Therefore, the source of her fortune has to be explained very clearly. If we were dealing with an ordinary citizen, then there would have been no legal need for such an explanation.

In addition, Angola is once again going through a financial crisis. This is normal and is typical of the market economy. What is not normal, though, is the fact that the coffers are empty, and the Sovereign Fund contains only five billion dollars, which, according to the 2016 projections, could only cover the deficit for a year.

A key question that needs to be answered is where have the state funds, which belong to the people, gone? And if, as some suspect, they have served to fund the Princess’s capitalist ventures, then the president has no moral justification in calling upon the rest of the citizens to make sacrifices.

A clear answer about the origin of Isabel dos Santos’s fortune has now become key to the political survival of José Eduardo dos Santos.