The real story, however, is how Dos Santos–the oldest daughter of Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos–acquired her wealth. For the past year we have been tracing Isabel dos Santos’ path to riches, reviewing a score of documents and speaking with dozens of people on the ground. As best as we can trace, every major Angolan investment held by Dos Santos stems either from taking a chunk of a company that wants to do business in the country or from a stroke of the president’s pen that cut her into the action. Her story is a rare window into the same, tragic kleptocratic narrative that grips resource-rich countries around the world.
For President Dos Santos it’s a foolproof way to extract money from his country, while keeping a putative arm’s-length distance away. If the 71-year-old president gets overthrown, he can reclaim the assets from his daughter. If he dies in power, she keeps the loot in the family. Isabel may decide, if she is generous, to share some of it with her seven known half-siblings. Or not. The siblings are known around Angola for despising one another.
“It is not possible to justify this wealth, which is shamelessly displayed,” said former Angolan prime minister Marcolino Moco tells. “There is no doubt that it was the father who generated such a fortune.”
Isabel dos Santos declined to comment for this article. Her representatives failed to respond to detailed questions sent months ago but last week issued this statement:
“Mrs. Isabel dos Santos is an independent business woman, and a private investor representing solely her own interests. Her investments in Angolan and/or in Portuguese companies are transparent and have been conducted through arms-length transactions involving external entities such as reputed banks and law firms.” In turn, the spokesman accuses this article’s coauthor, an Angolan investigative journalist, of being an activist with a political agenda. The Angolan government jailed Marques de Morais in 1999 over a series of articles critical of the government and has brought new criminal defamation charges against him over his 2011 book, Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola .
Finally, a representative of Mrs. Dos Santos said that any allegations of illegal wealth transfers between her and the government are “groundless and completely absurd.” That could well be when your father runs the show, and can dictate which national assets are sold and at what price, what’s theft of public resources in one country can be rendered legal with a swipe of the pen.