Isabel dos Santos, the tycoon daughter of Angola’s former president, has been charged with money laundering and mismanagement, Angolan prosecutors said, as they launched a bid Thursday to have the billionairess and other suspects return home for questioning.
The eldest child of ex-president Jose Eduardo dos Santos is the target of an anti-graft campaign led by her father’s successor, Joao Lourenco.
“Isabel dos Santos is accused of mismanagement and embezzlement of funds during her tenure at Sonangol,” prosecutor general Helder Pitta Gros told a news conference late Wednesday, referring to Angola’s state-owned oil giant.
“(She) is thus charged in the first instance with crimes of money laundering, influence peddling, harmful management … forgery of documents, among other economic crimes.”
Gros said dos Santos was among five suspects, all of whom were currently residing abroad.
“At the moment, the concern is to notify and get them to voluntarily come to face justice,” said Gros.
Gros travelled to Lisbon after his announcement and was expected to meet his Portuguese counterpart later Thursday.
Dos Santos is accused of using her father’s influence to steal millions of dollars from the oil- and diamond-rich but poor southern African country and stashing it abroad.
Investigations into her 18-month tenure as Sonangol head began after her successor Carlos Saturnino raised the alarm about “irregular money transfers” and other suspect procedures.
The so-called “Luanda Leaks” trove of more than 715000 files, published on Sunday by some of the world’s top media outlets, suggest the alleged looting was systemic.
The mounting scandal has stoked scrutiny of Portugal and some of its major corporations, especially the bank Eurobic.
Eurobic banker Nuno Ribeiro da Cunha, who was named in the “Luanda Leaks”, was found dead in Lisbon, police said Thursday.
“All indications point to suicide,” a police spokesman told AFP.
Just hours earlier, Eurobic said in a statement that Dos Santos — who owns 42.5 percent of the bank — had taken the decision to “withdraw” as a shareholder.
Dos Santos denial
Dos Santos has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and denounced the investigations as politically motivated.
The 46-year-old businesswoman has been furiously defending her empire, claiming her fortune was built on nothing but hard work and fruitful investments.
“This is what I do!,” she tweeted on Monday. “I build companies and enterprises, I invest and create jobs.”
Angola’s ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) said it respected the prosecutor’s decision.
“The MPLA supports and encourages the continuing fight against corruption and impunity, which is a national imperative,” spokesman Albino Carlos told AFP.
Dos Santos has been dubbed “the princess” by many Angolans and Africa’s richest woman by Forbes, which estimates her assets at $2.1 billion (1.89 billion euros).
She stopped living in Angola after her father stepped down in 2017 for his anointed successor Lourenco.
Most of the ex-president’s family have moved abroad since he stepped down, and are believed to jet-set between London, Dubai and Portugal.
Angola is still reeling from dos Santos’s 38-year rule during which key positions were awarded to his cronies and wealth amassed by a select few.
Lourenco has vowed to crack down on corruption and launched a large-scale purge of the dos Santos administration.
He removed Isabel dos Santos from her top job at Sonangol shortly after he came to power.
Prosecutors last month froze bank accounts and assets owned by Isabel dos Santos and her Congolose husband Sindika Dokolo as part of the probe.
Anti-corruption campaign group Global Witness alleged hundreds of companies, many based in tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands, helped her “to become Africa’s richest woman while millions of Angolans live in extreme poverty”.