You might not have heard about Isabel dos Santos, She’s a billionaire, party pal of Nicole Scherzinger and Paris Hilton, wife of the world’s biggest collector of African art and – for the moment – Africa’s richest woman. But who is she?
Isabel dos Santos, 46, billionaire, erstwhile party pal of Nicole Scherzinger and Paris Hilton, proud owner of a $50 million superyacht and ─ for the moment ─ Africa’s richest woman, worth an estimated $2.2 billion.
She’s also fighting corruption charges brought against her by Angola, the petro-state her father José Eduardo dos Santos ruled for 38 years. In December, an Angolan court froze her assets in an attempt to recover more than $1 billion of state funds. Then on Sunday, a leaked tranche of bombshell documents emerged and raised further questions about a litany of shady dealings that allegedly ‘ripped off Angola’.
Indeed. Or a ‘witch-hunt’, as Dos Santos calls it. Speaking from London, where she’s said to be seeking sanctuary from death threats arising from a ‘personal vendetta’, she called the action a ‘politically motivated attack’ from her father’s successor, President João Lourenço, designed to ‘discredit the legacy of President Dos Santos’.
She’s certainly a lively character. The daughter of a Soviet-sponsored warrior who rose to power in the Angolan War of Independence, Dos Santos Jr ironically emerged as a poster girl of African capitalism. In 2013 Forbes named her as Africa’s first female billionaire. Born to the president’s first wife, Tatiana Kukanova, she spent two years at top public school St Paul’s before going on to study engineering and business management at King’s College London, sharing a room in a hall of residence by Edgware Road. She now claims a £13m ‘iceberg mansion’ in Kensington among an international property portfolio that spans Portugal and Monaco. Dos Santos built a reputation as a hard worker at King’s.
She had ‘about 23 hours of classes per week, plus the labs, plus doing the reports, so you’re not going to be partying’, she said, although she certainly enjoyed late nights at exclusive London clubs while her dad was being feted by the great and the good in the Nineties. To her critics, who nickname her ‘The Princess’, she symbolises the rampant kleptocracy that her father’s rule is synonymous with.
She grew up at the centre of the privileged, powerful ‘Futungo’ set that coalesced around her father’s court. When she married Congolese art collector Sindika Dokolo in 2003, a choir was said to be flown in from Belgium and two charter planes delivered food from France for the $4 million affair. She’s also reported to have spent $1m flying Mariah Carey in to sing at one of her extravagant parties. A third of Angola’s population, meanwhile, live on just $2.50 a day.
So… how many of these billions can we put down to hard work and determination?
The jury’s out, technically. Isabel Dos Santos’s rise through the business world began with a failed beach restaurant and garbage-collection business in Angola while in her early 20s. A stake bought in Unitel, a telecoms company, proved a springboard for ventures into a Portuguese cable television company and an Angolan bank, and a flurry of state-backed deals. In 2016, three months before his retirement, her father installed her as head of the state oil firm Sonangol.
Prosecutors allege the company was used to funnel money overseas to companies linked to Dos Santos, her husband and their financial advisor. Meanwhile, her half-brother has gone on trial for embezzlement of up to $1.5 billion while head of Angola’s sovereign wealth fund.So who’s her husband?
A major collector of contemporary African art who, on the plus side, has vowed to find and return important Africa works removed from the continent in the colonial era, and assembled a ‘GI Joe team of specialists’ to do so. He reportedly owns around 3,000 works by the likes of the South Africans William Kentridge and Zanele Muholi, Barthelemy Toguo from Cameroon, Kudzanai Chiurai from Zimbabwe and Edson Chagas from Angola. On the downside, he signed a questionable one-sided agreement in 2012 with Angolan state diamond company Sodiam ─ another deal being investigated.
Prosecutors allege the company was used to funnel money overseas to companies linked to Dos Santos, her husband and their financial advisor. Meanwhile, her half-brother has gone on trial for embezzlement of up to $1.5 billion while head of Angola’s sovereign wealth fund.
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