Web of corruption around Isabel dos Santos in Angola still being untangled two years after Luanda Leaks

The Pandora Papers shed new light on the offshore dealings of powerful figures close to Angola’s former president who were recently sanctioned by the U.S.

Powerful Angolan political figures accused of embezzling billions of dollars can now be linked to at least 20 more secretive companies in the United States and other tax havens, exposing new financial hideaways of the impoverished African country’s former ruling elite.

Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of Angola’s former authoritarian president, José Eduardo dos Santos, as well as former senior presidential advisors and generals, Leopoldino Fragoso do Nascimento and Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias Júnior, owned offshore companies and bank accounts in Europe and the Middle East, leaked records from the Pandora Papers investigation show.

Last month, the United States government sanctioned Isabel dos Santos and the two former generals for what it called “significant corruption.” Under the new measures, dos Santos and members of her family cannot enter the United States.

The State Department also barred Nascimento, President dos Santos’ former head of communications, and Dias, a powerful former Angolan general. The U.S. Treasury Department placed Nascimento, Dias and his wife, Luisa de Fatima Giovetty, under economic sanctions.

“Bringing kleptocrats’ shady deals to light is key to defending human rights,” said Karina Carvalho, executive director of Transparency International in Portugal. “Angola is a resource rich country but the majority of its people live in poverty, prevented from accessing health, education and decent life conditions because of people who take the country’s wealth as their own.”

Two years ago, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists revealed that Isabel dos Santos, once touted as Africa’s richest woman, built her estimated $2 billion fortune on the back of insider deals with the help of shell companies and an array of Western lawyers, accountants and wealth managers.

The Luanda Leaks investigation showed how dos Santos got access to lucrative deals involving oil, diamonds, telecoms and supermarkets often courtesy of government decrees signed by her father. She also benefited from insider deals, preferential loans and contracts fueled by public money.

Dos Santos said the allegations against her were false.

Close allies of dos Santos’s father, generals Nascimento and Dias are accused by the U.S. of siphoning off public funds for their personal benefit, too. They once held sprawling business interests and have been estimated to be billionaires.

In 2020, Nascimento and Dias voluntarily handed over assets, including residences and factories, as part of an Angolan government probe into alleged fraud and the misuse of state contracts. An attorney for the two generals has previously declined to comment on the case.

The 2021 Pandora Papers investigation, based on a trove of almost 12 million leaked records from offshore service providers based in notorious tax havens, shine new light on the trio’s financial dealings.

Dos Santos did not respond to requests for comment about her offshore companies. Nascimento and Dias could not be reached for comment.

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