Isabel dos Santos Facing Fraud Charges; Banker’s Death Linked to Investigation

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January 23, 2020

Isabel dos Santos, Africa’s richest woman, is set to be indicted on charges including money laundering, influence peddling and forgery.

The forthcoming charges were announced by Angola’s prosecutor general Hélder Pitra Grós at a news conference on Jan. 22. They came less than a week after a sweeping international investigation into the finances of dos Santos, which included her brief stint as chairwoman of state oil company Sonangol.

“Isabel dos Santos is accused of mismanagement and embezzlement of funds during her tenure at Sonangol,” Pitra Grós told reporters. “[She] is thus charged in the first instance with the crimes of money laundering, influence peddling, harmful management… forgery of documents, among other economic crimes.”

A series of stories released this week — based on documents obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists detailed in FRONTLINE’s The Luanda Leaks — revealed how dos Santos built her business empire with access to Angolan state funds.

In a statement issued on Jan. 23, dos Santos denied all allegations against her, saying they were “extremely misleading and untrue.” She said: “This is a very concentrated, orchestrated and well-coordinated political attack, ahead of elections in Angola next year… [and] no-one should be taken in by these diversionary tactics.”

Dos Santos said she has “always operated within the law,” and that all of her commercial transactions have been “approved by lawyers, banks, auditors and regulators.” Dos Santos also said she had hired lawyers to take action against “inaccurate and defamatory reports.”

“I am ready to fight through the international courts to defend my good name,” she said.

The day Pitra Grós made his announcement, Portuguese media reported the death of banker Nuno Ribeiro da Cunha, a head of private banking at EuroBic, the Lisbon bank where dos Santos is a primary shareholder. Sources told Portugal’s Jornal Económico that the apparent cause was suicide. The banker was one of the five suspects initially named in Pitra Grós’s investigation.

The same day, EuroBic announced that dos Santos was selling her stake in the company. In a statement sent to Reuters, the company said the sale of her 42.5 percent stake had already started and that dos Santos’ decision was “final.”

In his news conference, Pitra Grós said his primary concern was notifying dos Santos and the other suspects named in his investigation — all of whom were living abroad — and bringing them back to Angola to face charges. Earlier this week he announced he would use “all possible means and… international mechanisms” in order to do so.

A spokesperson for Angola’s attorney general’s office told The New York Times that formal charges had not yet been filed but were likely. “We have enough reasons to prosecute these people,” said Pitra Grós.

In Britain, where dos Santos owns multiple properties, authorities recently confirmed their “good working relationship with the Angolan attorney general’s office,” although the spokesperson declined to comment on the existence of any current investigation.


Karen Pinchin

Karen Pinchin, Tow Journalism Fellow, FRONTLINE/Columbia Journalism Fellowship, FRONTLINE

Twitter:

@karenpinchin

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