Forbes Blasts Rise of Africa’s Richest Woman as Corrupt, “Kleptocratic”

Two journalists look into the legitimacy and source of billionaire Isabel dos Santos' numerous assets and companies.

Posted: 08/20/2013 10:00 AM EDT
Isabel Dos Santos

With more money comes more scrutiny and Isabel Santos — the richest woman in Africa — is no exception.

A recent Forbes article, titled "Daddy's Girl: How an African 'Princess' Banked $3 Billion in a Country Living on $2 a Day," lifted the lid on Santos’ impressive title of Africa’s youngest and first woman billionaire. The article digs deep into the origins and legalities of her multiple earnings, given that she’s the eldest daughter of Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos.

Some Angolans heralded the attention that dos Santos’ billionaire ranking shed on the Southern African country, which remains one of the world’s poorest countries despite being one of Africa’s major oil producers.

Meanwhile, a number of watchdog organizations and foreign experts pointed to dos Santos’ wealth as a prime example of Angola’s complete lack of transparency in the case of corporate governance and the source of funds.

Forbes reporter Kerry A. Dolan paired up with Angola-based investigative journalist Rafael Marques de Morais in 2011 to find out whether dos Santos could justify her wealth and the means by which it was generated.

Piqued by the business woman’s fortune — which stems from an abundance of shares in publicly traded companies, combined with assets in at least one local bank — and how it grew from $500 million to $3 billion in less than a year, Dolan and Marques questioned whether she had actually paid for the assets in all her companies.

“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,” wrote Dolan.

“Her story is a rare window into the same, tragic kleptocratic narrative that grips resource-rich countries around the world.”

While Dos Santos declined to speak with Forbes for the article, her representatives informed the reporters, via a statement, that dos Santos is “an independent business woman, and a private investor representing solely her own interests” and deemed any allegations of illegal wealth transfers “groundless and completely absurd.”

As Forbes writes:

“Isabel dos Santos’ holdings are more than just squirreled away assets to be unearthed in case of a rainy day. They throw off hefty dividends that allow her to buy yet more assets in businesses seemingly unrelated to the exploitation of Angolan properties, such as her $500 million stake in Portuguese media firm ZON.

Meanwhile, her father has taken steps to legally protect himself from all the plundering. Under Angolan law President Dos Santos’ decision to grant a license to Unitel for the personal benefit of his daughter could be considered an abuse of power.

To cover his legal bases, in 1992 the president fiddled with the law to reduce it to two grounds: taking bribes or betraying the country. Technically, he can argue, neither was violated in the case of Unitel.

The larger strategy, though, is to portray Isabel as a hero.”

Read the full story here.

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(Photo: PAULO NOVAIS /LANDOV)

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