How an African 'Princess' Made $3 Billion in a Land Where Most Live on $2 a Day
By Kerry A. Dolan and Rafael Marques de Morais
Isabel dos Santos commemorated her tenth wedding anniversary to Congolese
businessman Sindika Dokolo with a party. Subtlety wasn't on the menu. She jetted
in dozens of friends and relatives from as far as Germany and Brazil, who joined
with hundreds of local guests in Angola for three days of lavishness, including
a bash at the Fortress of Sao Miguel in the capital city of Luanda and a
beachside Sunday brunch on the posh Mussulo peninsula. The invitation, according
to one attendee, came in a sleek white box, promising a celebration of "a decade
of passion/ a decade of friendship/ a decade worth a hundred years.
A decade worth $3 billion is more like it. At 40, Dos Santos is
Africa's only female billionaire, and also the continent's youngest. She has
quickly and systematically garnered significant stakes in Angola's strategic
industries -- banking, cement, diamonds and telecom -- making her the most
influential businessperson in her homeland. More than half of her assets are
held in publicly traded Portuguese companies, adding international credibility.
When FORBES outed her as a billionaire in January the government disseminated
the news as a matter of national pride, living proof that this country of 19
million has arrived.
The real story, however, is how Dos Santo -- the
oldest daughter of Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos -- acquired her
wealth. For the past year FORBES has been tracing Isabel dos Santos' path to
riches, reviewing a score of documents and speaking with dozens of people on the
ground. As best as we can trace, every major Angolan investment held by Dos
Santos stems either from taking a chunk of a company that wants to do business
in the country or from a stroke of the president's pen that cut her into the
action. Her story is a rare window into the same, tragic kleptocratic narrative
that grips resource-rich countries around the world.
For President Dos
Santos it's a foolproof way to extract money from his country, while keeping a
putative arm's-length distance away. If the 71-year-old president gets
overthrown, he can reclaim the assets from his daughter. If he dies in power,
she keeps the loot in the family. Isabel may decide, if she is generous, to
share some of it with her seven known half-siblings. Or not. The siblings are
known around Angola for despising one another.
"It is not possible to
justify this wealth, which is shamelessly displayed," former Angolan prime
minister Marcolino Moco tells FORBES. "There is no doubt that it was the father
who generated such a fortune."
Isabel dos Santos declined to speak with
FORBES for this article. Her representatives failed to respond to detailed
questions sent months ago but last week issued this statement: "Mrs. Isabel dos
Santos is an independent business woman, and a private investor representing
solely her own interests. Her investments in Angolan and/or in Portuguese
companies are transparent and have been conducted through arms-length
transactions involving external entities such as reputed banks and law firms."
In turn, the spokesman accuses this article's coauthor, an Angolan investigative
journalist, of being an activist with a political agenda. The Angolan government
jailed Marques de Morais in 1999 over a series of articles critical of the
regime and has brought new criminal defamation charges against him over his 2011
book, Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola .
Some things never change :) Power corrupts. Its the same wherever you go. Generation to generation.