Isabel dos Santos amassed an empire worth more than $2 billion as the daughter of Angola’s former long-time president. Now it looks like that empire is beginning to crumble.
On Wednesday—as the Attorney General of Angola held a press conference to provisionally charge Isabel dos Santos with embezzlement and money laundering, according to the BBC—a bank in Portugal where she has been a significant shareholder issued a statement saying that Dos Santos’ stake is being sold.
EuroBic, a small privately held bank in Lisbon in which Dos Santos has owned a 42.5% stake, issued a statement on Monday that it was severing its business relationship with Dos Santos and the entities related to her. On Wednesday EuroBic announced that Dos Santos had decided to sell her stake in the bank, which has about $8 billion in assets. Forbes recently valued Dos Santos’ 42.5% stake at around $200 million.
Dos Santos has come under intense scrutiny this past week after a number of media outlets, including the New York Times, the BBC and The Guardian, published articles based on the “Luanda Leaks”—a cache of some 700,000 documents related to Dos Santos’ allegedly corrupt business dealings that were released to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
Dos Santos was appointed to head Angola’s state oil company, Sonangol, in 2016, when her father was still president of the country. (He retired in 2017 after ruling Angola for 38 years.)
According to an article in The Guardian, while Dos Santos was heading up Sonangol, she allegedly arranged for a transfer of $57 million on one day in November 2017 from Sonangol’s bank account to a Dubai company, Matter Business Solutions, run by Paula Oliveira, a woman who The Guardian says is apparently a close friend of Dos Santos’.
It turns out that the Sonangol bank account from which the funds were transferred was a EuroBic account. In its statement severing ties with Dos Santos, EuroBic also said that the payments ordered by Sonangol to Matter Business Solutions “respected the legal and regulatory procedures formally applicable . . . between this bank and Sonangol, namely those related to the prevention of money laundering.”
The BBC is reporting that an employee of EuroBic who managed the Sonangol account, Nuno Ribeiro da Cunha, 45, was found dead in Lisbon on Wednesday. A police source told the BBC that “everything points to suicide.”
Dos Santos issued a statement on Thursday saying, “The allegations which have been made against me over the last few days are extremely misleading and untrue,” and adding that “I am a private businesswoman who has spent 20 years building successful companies from the ground up,” and that “I have always operated within the law and all my transactions have been approved by lawyers, bankers, auditors and regulators.”
Forbes first dug into the murky origins of Isabel dos Santos’ fortune, with help from Angolan investigative journalist Rafael Marques de Morais, in an in-depth investigation in 2013. In late December 2019, an Angolan court issued a freeze of Dos Santos’ assets in Angola—assets that Forbes estimates are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Most of Dos Santos’ fortune—which Forbes estimates at $2.1 billion—lies in assets held outside of Angola, primarily in Portugal.
The natural question: Will other Portuguese companies in which Dos Santos is a shareholder follow in EuroBic’s footsteps?
–Kerry A. Dolan, Forbes Staff
Isabel dos Santos features in the 2020 Africa Billionaire’s list in the February issue of FORBES AFRICA. The news of the provisional charges against her for embezzlement and money laundering was unavailable at the time of going to press.