The Empress Has no Clothes

Isabel dos Santos is the woman who once boasted to Forbes magazine that she was Africa’s first female billionaire.

Although Angolans knew she owed her fortune to nepotism and wholesale theft from the public purse, Isabel wove an image of herself as an astute global entrepreneur. But her reputation began to unravel along with her business empire after her father José Eduardo dos Santos stepped down as President of Angola last year.

As President, Dos Santos had funnelled millions of dollars from the state oil company Sonangol to ‘loans’ to bankroll her businesses. Then, before leaving office, he installed Isabel as the head of Sonangol. The effect was catastrophic.

The new President marshalled the evidence and ensured his own position was sufficiently secure before acting.

First, Isabel was sacked as the head of Sonangol. Then she was removed, step by step, from each of the lucrative contracts or positions awarded by her father . Goodbye, Caculo-Cabaça hydroelectric dam. Goodbye, Luanda Metropolitan Master Plan. Goodbye, Corimba Coast Road. Goodbye to Atlantic Ventures’ Port project. Goodbye, monopoly diamond-trading licences for Ascorp, Odisseye and Iaxhon.

Soon it’ll be Goodbye to the jewel in her crown, UNITEL and perhaps her freedom too. Between them, Sonangol and the Brazilian company Oi (which has taken over PT Ventures (PTV) and is suing Isabel for $600 million USD of unpaid dividends) want out of UNITEL.

Meanwhile nerves in Portugal are also fraying. The collapse of Isabel’s empire will have repercussions for major Portuguese businesses such as GALP and EFACEC.

Isabel has grumbled plaintively to friends and business associates that she is being ‘persecuted’ but her public threat to sue the government of Angola has backfired spectacularly, turning some of her father’s ertswhile allies against her and strengthening President Lourenço’s hand. Senior MPLA Political Bureau figures say she’s blown it and her father has lost any power he had to pull strings from the wings.

As reported by the state media , on July 17 Isabel was served with a summons to present herself for questioning in connection with the investigation into the (mal)administration of the National Oil Company Sonangol. The summons required her to appear the next day at the Attorney General’s office in Luanda.

Instead, sources report that Isabel and her husband retired to her father’s home for the rest of the day before dashing to the airport for a late-night flight to Europe.
Is she on the run?