Africa’s Richest Woman Accused of Fraud

Africa’s richest woman, Isabel dos Santos, has been accused of embezzlement and money laundering by prosecutors in Angola.

Attorney General Helder Pitta Gros said the allegations related to her time as chairwoman of state oil firm Sonangol.

He called on Ms Dos Santos to return to Angola and face potential criminal charges.

Ms Dos Santos recently denied alleged corruption revealed by leaked documents.

The billionaire, who currently lives in the UK, also told the BBC she was considering running for Angola’s presidency.

Her father, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, was Angola’s president for 38 years before he stepped down in 2017.

Separately, another suspect in the case who managed Sonangol’s account at the small Portuguese bank EuroBic, was found dead at his house in Lisbon on Wednesday, Portuguese media said quoting a police source.

The source said “everything” suggested that the death of Nuno Ribeiro da Cunha was suicide.

What is she accused of?

Prosecutors are seeking to recover $1bn (£760m) that Ms Dos Santos and her associates are alleged to owe the state.

“Isabel dos Santos is accused of mismanagement and embezzlement of funds during her tenure at Sonangol,” Mr Pitta Gros told a news conference on Wednesday evening.

He said that as a result she was being provisionally charged with “money laundering, influence peddling, harmful management…[and] forgery of documents, among other economic crimes”.

The Angolan authorities will now conduct a criminal investigation to determine whether she should be formally charged.

They have also named five other people as suspects in the case, one of whom was Mr Ribeiro da Cunha, and urged them to return to Angola.

Mr Pitta Gros said that if Ms Dos Santos did not return to Angola voluntarily, an international arrest warrant would be issued for her.

Ms Dos Santos was controversially appointed head of Sonangol in June 2016 by her father. She was sacked from the post in 2017 by her father’s successor, President Joao Lourenço.

An investigation into Ms Dos Santos was opened after her successor at Sonangol, Carlos Saturnino, alerted authorities to alleged irregular money transfers. Her assets in Angola have been frozen.

What is in the leaked documents?

On Sunday, the BBC and other news organisations reported on more than 700,000 leaked documents about the billionaire’s business empire.

The documents showed how Ms Dos Santos got access to lucrative land, oil, diamond and telecoms deals when her father was president. Her fortune is estimated at $2.1 bn (£1.6bn).

They also showed how Western firms helped Ms Dos Santos take her money out of Angola.

She called the allegations entirely false and claimed that the Angolan government was engaged in a politically motivated witch-hunt.

Earlier this week a top executive at financial services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers left the firm over its links with Ms Dos Santos. The company declined to comment on the departure and said it had launched its own investigation.

On Wednesday EuroBic said it would end its business relationship with Ms Dos Santos, who is reportedly the bank’s main shareholder through two companies she owns.

It was later reported as saying that Ms Dos Santos was selling her capital stake in the bank.

The bank added that it would investigate transfers worth tens of millions of dollars she had made. Some of the transfers drained Sonangol’s account at EuroBic, the New York Times reports.

BBC 

Image Caption: Africa’s richest woman, Isabel Dos Santos