Africa’s Richest Woman Set to Face Embezzlement Charges in Angola

Africa’s Richest Woman Set to Face Embezzlement Charges in Angola

LUANDA, Angola — Isabel dos Santos, Africa’s richest woman and the daughter of Angola’s former president, is set to be charged with committing crimes to enrich herself, after an investigation into embezzlement of millions of dollars from the state oil company, which she once headed, Angolan officials said.

Angola’s attorney general, Hélder Pitta Grós, said late Wednesday during a news conference in the capital, Luanda, that Ms. dos Santos would be charged with “money laundering, influence peddling, harmful management” and “forgery of documents, among other economic crimes” committed when she ran the oil company, Sonangol.

“I can say that from the investigation we conducted, we will now move to criminal charges,” Mr. Pitta Grós said in remarks that aired on the Angolan state-run television channel TPA.

Álvaro João, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, clarified in a Thursday interview that formal charges had not yet been filed, but were likely, and that they were part of an investigation that began in 2018.

“These are not yet formal charges, as investigations continue and if needed we will then charge her and the others,” he said.

Ms. dos Santos lives in Lisbon and London, and owns luxurious homes in Monte Carlo and Dubai. She and four of her business associates, all Portuguese nationals, would face charges, Mr. Pitta Grós said, adding, “We have enough reasons to prosecute these people.”

“At this moment our concern is that they be notified of the charges brought against them, and that they present themselves voluntarily to the court in order for them to be able to defend themselves in the best possible way, voluntarily,” he said. “If we are not able to achieve this, then we will resort to existing legal instruments to bring them to court.”

When asked if his office knew of Ms. dos Santos’s whereabouts, he seemed unsure.

“We only know from the social media that she has been living in London and Russia,” Mr. Pitta Grós said.

The announcement came days after a trove of documents obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and shared with The New York Times revealed Ms. dos Santos’s efforts to enrich herself through shady business dealings that helped build her estimated $2 billion fortune.

Angola has sought help from Portugal, its former colonial ruler, in the corruption investigation. Ms. dos Santos has links to several Portuguese companies, including EuroBic, the European arm of an Angolan bank in which Ms. dos Santos owns a 42.5 percent stake.

On Thursday, the Portuguese news agency Lusa reported that a EuroBic banker who managed the Sonangol account, Nuno Ribeiro da Cunha, was found dead Wednesday night at his house in Lisbon. Lusa reported that his death was most likely a suicide, citing a police source.

Mr. Pitta Grós traveled to Lisbon on Thursday to meet with the Portuguese attorney general, Lucília Gago, and discuss the allegations against Ms. dos Santos, among other issues, according to Portugal’s public service broadcaster, Rádio e Televisão de Portugal.

Angola has immense oil and mineral wealth, but many of its people live in deep poverty, without access to basic services, and the country is rife with corruption.

The recently leaked documents provide a detailed account of how Ms. dos Santos exploited her country’s resources, acquiring stakes in Angola’s lucrative diamond industry, banks, the leading cement manufacturer and the largest mobile phone company — often through orders signed by her father, José Eduardo dos Santos. She has denied any wrongdoing and has long maintained that she is a self-made woman.

The leaked materials revealed that in November 2017, when Ms. dos Santos was chairwoman of Sonangol, $57 million was transferred from the oil company to a Dubai company owned by a friend of hers. In the hours after her father’s successor announced that she was being fired fromSonangol that month, an additional $38 million was transferred from the company, draining its account at EuroBic.

The bank announced on Monday that it was ending its “commercial relationship” with Ms. dos Santos, and would be investigating transfers worth tens of millions of dollars and said it would audit the November 2017 transfers and report its findings to Portugal’s central bank.

Mr. Pitta Grós said during his Wednesday news conference that Ms. dos Santos had not shown any interest in cooperating with Angolan authorities in their investigation, and had fled the country the same day she was summoned for questioning.

Ms. dos Santos recently denied any wrongdoing in an interview with the BBC, calling the inquiry into her finances a “political persecution.”

“My companies are funded privately, we work with commercial banks, our holdings are private holdings,” she said, later adding, “You cannot just say because you are someone’s child, you are immediately guilty.”

Gilberto Neto reported from Luanda, and Megan Specia from London. Daphné Anglès contributed reporting from Paris.


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