Isabelle dos Santos is the daughter of the former president of Angola and, as it turned out recently, a Russian citizen, her husband and persons acting in their interests have created in dozens of jurisdictions, including offshore and “tax havens”, a business empire of more than 400 companies that have received from Angola’s government contracts for billions of dollars, according to an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). Journalists claim that it was precisely the fraudulent transactions that took place over the course of 20 years that made soul Santos the richest woman in Africa, and Angola, rich in oil and diamonds, one of the poorest countries in the world.
A new ICIJ investigation is called Luanda Leaks. It lasted eight months, during which more than 120 journalists studied hundreds of thousands of documents received as a result of the leak and interviewed dozens of people. Leaked documents include emails and documents from dos Santos companies, consultants' reports, tax returns, etc.
The results of the investigation were published immediately in several major international publications, including The New York Times, The Guardian. Forbes talks about the main findings of these publications.
The Appearance of a Billionaire
ICIJ calls her husband Sindica Dokolo the key business partner of dos Santos. They got married in 2002 when she was 29 and he was 30. Dokolo is a wealthy Congolese businessman and art collector "addicted to Porsche cars, American basketball, and African art." In a wedding article in the weekly Jeune Afrique, Dokolo stated: "The next oligarchs - like the ones we see in Russia - will come from our region."
It follows from the investigation that over the past decades (journalists have been studying the period since 1992), dos Santos and her husband have registered more than 400 entities in 41 countries. Some companies were created in tax havens, such as Malta and Hong Kong. According to the ICIJ, the Santos team used these jurisdictions to preserve its condition. The favorite from jurisdictions was Malta: among the leaked documents, journalists found a 16-page description of Malta tax benefits prepared by lawyers, which indicated that by creating a company in this country, you can start a business and receive dividends, interest and royalties without paying taxes.
At least 94 companies have been registered in jurisdictions guaranteeing financial secrecy, such as Dubai, Mauritius and the British Virgin Islands. A third of these companies were shell companies, according to ICIJ. According to the investigation, dos Santos and her husband used this “shell company archipelago” to invest in business and real estate without too much attention.
For example, in 2010, Dokolo used two Maltese companies to acquire a majority stake in Swiss jewelry company De Grisogono. His business partner in this transaction was the Angolan state-owned diamond trading company Sodiam. Sodiam helped finance the deal and lent the jewelry company more than $ 120 million, according to the documents.
Santos and her husband used another Maltese company to buy an apartment in Monte Carlo for $ 55 million, ICIJ said. In 2016, dos Santos and Dokolo purchased a yacht for $ 35 million through a shell company registered in the British Virgin Islands.
In interviews and public appearances, Santos poses as a self-made billionaire. For example, in an interview with the Financial Times, she said that her entrepreneurial spirit woke up as a child when she sold eggs to buy cotton candy. In turn, ICIJ calls her "the main beneficiary" of her father's activity - Jose Eduardo dos dos Santos, who steadily ruled Angola for 38 years. Dos Santos treated Angola “as his personal farm,” local human rights activist Salvador Freire told reporters.
The marriage of parents Isabelle dos Santos fell apart when she was a child. In 1979, the six-year-old shower Santos with his mother, a native of Penza Tatyana Kukanova, left Angola for London, where she graduated from high school and received an engineering education. Nevertheless, she remained close with her father - as noted in the investigation, at family meetings they sometimes took out guitars and improvised together.
In 1999, the father of dos Santos created Angola Selling Corp., which received the exclusive right to sell Angolan diamonds. He transferred a 24.5% stake to Gibraltar-registered company Trans Africa Investment Services. Later it turns out that the only owners of this company were Isabelle dos Santos and her mother, writes ICIJ.
A year later, the Angolan government issued one of the country's first Unitel mobile licenses, among the owners and founders of which was Isabelle dos Santos.
By the age of 30, Santos owned millions of dollars worth of luxury apartments in London and Lisbon, writes ICIJ.
Thanks to her father’s connections, Santos met the Portuguese billionaire Americo Amorim (died in 2017), who became her business partner. In 2005, they jointly created Banco BIC in Angola - now it is one of the largest banks in the country with assets of $ 4.2 billion. Subsequently, business partners jointly invested in cement production, real estate and energy.
In 2005, Amorim and the Angolan state-owned oil company Sonangol established a joint company, Amorim Energia, which subsequently acquired 33.3% of the Portuguese energy company Galp Energia. A year later, Sonangol sold 40% of its interest in the joint venture of the Swiss company husband dos Santos Exem Holding. The stake was valued at $ 99 million, but Sonangol received only $ 15 million, agreeing to lend the buyer most of the amount. Dokolo told ICIJ that it had fully repaid the loan in 2017. In turn, Sonangol stated that it had declined the payment, since in violation of the loan agreement, the payment was proposed to be made in Angolan currency. Today, the value of the stake sold is estimated at approximately $ 800 million, the investigation said.
By the age of 40, Santos had become “the main economic force in Angola”: thousands of people worked for it. Its assets included stakes in Unitel mobile operator, Banco BIC and Banco BPI, Portugal's largest cable and Internet operator ZON Multimédia and satellite operator ZAP, the Portuguese manufacturer of electrical components Efacec Power Solutions, a jewelry company de Grisogono. Dos Santos also controlled Nova Cimangola, the largest cement producer in Angola, and was preparing to launch the Candando supermarket chain and the Sodiba beverage producer.
That year, dos Santos first entered the Forbes ranking, being the only woman among African billionaires. At the same time, an article on souls Santos indicated that her condition was mainly formed due to protectionism.
Cash machine for shower Santos
Companies paid dos Santos millions of dollars in dividends, writes ICIJ. In particular, journalists call Unitel “the money machine”: according to journalists, from 2006 to 2015, the telecom operator could pay shareholders more than $ 5 billion in dividends.
Dos Santos also conceived a major renovation project for the Angolan capital of Luanda, due to which, according to ICIJ, thousands of families lost their homes. She planned to build up the coastline with tall houses, create artificial islands and equip a new beach, port and promenade. And she claimed that it would not be necessary to evict or resettle the inhabitants of the coast - everything would be built on lands “reclaimed” from the sea. The $ 1.3 billion project was tentatively approved by her father in May 2013. The very next month, soldiers, police and presidential security officers began to evict residents of the fishing village of Arey Branka and demolish their homes with bulldozers, writes ICIJ. “Without warning, without notice ... It was like a massacre,” a local resident told reporters.
Bank shares needed dos Santos to finance the activities of their business empire, when it was difficult to attract financing from Western banks. According to ICIJ, since 2012, Western banks have become concerned about dubious operations of companies such as Santos and her husband - for example, the $ 460 million loan that Unitel issued to her Dutch company Unitel International Holdings and the payment of $ 1.3 million to offshore Dokolo in the British Virgin Islands by the Swiss jewelry company de Grisogono. Banks, in particular Citigroup and Barclays, began to refuse transactions, considering the risks too high. Problems also arose with Deutsche Bank, ING and Santander.
To improve her image of souls, Santos hired the most famous public relations consultant in Portugal, began giving interviews and participating in major business events, and started Instagram, where she posted selfies from economic forums, family photos and photos with celebrities like Paris Hilton, Chris Jenner, Nicki Minaj and Lindsay Lohan.