The Fight to Come Over Isabel dos Santos' Billions
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because the rich are still very different from you and me.
By Eugene S. Robinson
OZY Newsmakers: Deep dives on the names you need to know.
Given how closely form and function are bound together in a civilized society, the fact that cash is stolen as often as it is should surprise no one. Least of all a Greek chorus of the aggrieved who are currently in mid-chase of one Ms. Isabel dos Santos. The 44-year-old titular “Richest Woman in Africa,” dos Santos’ apparent financial depredations have been thrust into the light after a leak last week of 715,000 documents and investigations fueled by the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
The leak appears to show how dos Santos — partly as a result of business savvy, along with fortuitous family placement as the daughter of Angola’s former president of 38 years, José Eduardo dos Santos — parlayed all of the above into a colossal cash grab that led to much more than lucrative relations with friends in high places at consulting firms Boston Consulting Group, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, McKinsey & Company and PwC — which will find themselves under new scrutiny going forward.
How lucrative? Somewhere north of $2 billion, personal fortune-wise.
It appears dos Santos, in the grips of a sustained pattern of graft, systematically engorged herself at the expense of Angola.
Under a different set of circumstances, it could have been hailed as the stuff of Horatio Alger’s dreams of succeeding by luck, pluck and perseverance. However, given that oil- and diamond-rich Angola also could claim some of the highest rates of infant mortality and a 94 percent poverty rate among rural households, probably not.
What’s much more probable: Dos Santos, in the grips of a sustained pattern of graft, systematically engorged herself at the expense of Angola, and was likely responsible for the more than $1 billion of “lost” government money.
Lost money currently being hunted down by Angola’s Attorney General Hélder Fernando Pitta Grós, who has stated that Angola is seeking to “use all possible means” to get dos Santos, her husband Sindika Dokolo and some portion of that cash back into the country and in court where she would face corruption charges. The charges relate to contracts, emails and invoices that appear to show specifically how dos Santos played banking, construction, diamonds and telecom to pad her wealth.
A wealth she’s been enjoying first in Portugal, where they’re attempting to confiscate her assets, and presently in the United Arab Emirates, where she has established residency before finally coming a’light in Britain — and is girding for battle.
And this Azerbaijan-born, U.K.-educated daughter of a Russian mother and an Angolan father is battling in step with the current zeitgeist. She took to Twitter to say: “The ICIJ report is based on many fake documents and false information, it is a coordinated political attack in coordinations with the ‘Angolan Government.’ 715 thousand documents read? Who believes that?”
Pretty much everyone, from the Lisbon-based bank EuroBic that’s ceasing its business relationship with her and trying to claw back tens of millions of dollars, to the Angolan government that has frozen her and her husband’s assets. Attorney General Grós — who succeeded José Eduardo dos Santos’ attorney general, Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias Jr. (net worth $3 billion in a curious twist) — is planning on doing anything and everything possible to bring her back to face the music. Starting with extraditing her from England, where she was when the documents were leaked.
It’s not a bad place to be when you consider that extradition from the U.K. is tremendously difficult — specifically if you’re a resident with major investments, which dos Santos clearly still has.
But twists and turns remain in a story whose end is anything but assured. Especially since in the absence of movement in a dos Santos extradition, all eyes are turning to her institutional enablers, the consulting firms. The British PwC, in particular, might get dragged into an imbroglio that will involve some measure of global cooperation against money laundering.
Such a development doesn’t seem to interest dos Santos much, as a fusillade of tweets rail against purveyors of injustice. “I build companies and enterprises,” dos Santos said a few days after the documents were leaked. “I invest and create jobs. This is where my wealth comes from: BUSINESSES …”
With more than 400 companies and subsidiaries in 41 countries, there’s no shortage of businesses. As for legitimate businesses …
“The movement of dirty money through shell companies into the international financial system to be laundered, recycled and deployed for political influence is accelerating,” Larry Diamond, senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, told ICIJ. And “it heightens the danger of political violence and human rights abuses.”
Angola, where the life expectancy is 60 years old, probably couldn’t agree more.