Isabel dos Santos

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Isabel dos Santos
©NC IdS.jpg
Isabel dos Santos in 2019
Isabel dos Santos

(1973-04-20) 20 April 1973 (age 47)
NationalityRussia, Angola
Alma materKing's College London
Net worthUS$1.5 billion (September 2020)
(m. 2002; died 2020)

Isabel dos Santos (born 20 April 1973) is an Angolan businesswoman, Africa's richest woman and the eldest child of Angola's former President José Eduardo dos Santos, who ruled the country from 1979 to 2017. In 2013, according to Forbes, her net worth had exceeded US$2 billion making her Africa's first female US dollar billionaire. Forbes described how dos Santos acquired her wealth by taking stakes in companies doing business in Angola, suggesting that her wealth comes almost entirely from her family's power and connections. In November 2015, the BBC named dos Santos as one of the 100 most influential women in the world.

The Angolan Government has, since 2018, been trying to prosecute Isabel dos Santos for past corruption crimes that may have led to Angola's ongoing recession crisis. However, she remains in exile in Portugal. On 30 December 2019, the Luanda Provincial Court ordered the freezing of dos Santos's Angolan bank accounts and the seizure of her stake in local companies, including Unitel and  [de]. Dos Santos has characterized the charges against her as "trumped-up charges ... which were based on fabricated documents." She describes the seizures of her assets as a "politically motivated attack".

She is under investigation in Portugal and has since assumed the United Arab Emirates as her official country of residence. Two weeks later, the Angolan Government announced it was preparing the legal battle for the confiscation of dos Santos's assets in Portugal, a process that is already in operation in the form of letters rogatory sent to Portugal to stop the transfer of funds from Portuguese Commercial Bank to a Russian bank.[which?]

Family and education[]

Isabel dos Santos was born in Baku, Azerbaijan SSR, the eldest daughter of Angola's former President José Eduardo dos Santos and his first wife, the Russian-born Tatiana Kukanova, whom he met while studying in the then Soviet republic of Azerbaijan. Her father's parents came from São Tomé and Príncipe. She attended the all girls boarding school in Kent, Cobham Hall School. She studied electrical engineering at King's College in London. There she met her husband from Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo), Sindika Dokolo, a son of a millionaire from Kinshasa and his Danish wife.


In the past 20 years dos Santos has held management positions in a number of companies listed on European stock exchanges. She returned from London in the early 1990s to join her father in Luanda and started working as a project manager engineer for Urbana 2000, a subsidiary of Jembas Group, that had won a contract to clean and disinfect the city. Following that, she set up a trucking business. The widespread use of walkie-talkie technology paved the way for a subsequent foray into telecoms. In 1997, she started her first business, opening the Miami Beach Club, one of the first night clubs and beach restaurants on Luanda Island. Over nearly 20 years she expanded her business interests, leading to the creation of several holdings, in Angola and mostly abroad, making substantial investments in high-profile enterprises, especially in Portugal. In June 2016, she was appointed by her father as chairwoman of Sonangol, the Angolan state oil company. The controversial appointment in the wake of similar appointments of children of the president to key posts was short-lived, as João Lourenço, the new Angolan President, fired her just two months after being sworn into office.

On 30 December 2019, the Luanda Provincial Court ordered the preventive seizure of personal bank accounts of dos Santos, her husband, Sindika Dokolo, and Mário Filipe Moreira Leite da Silva. According to the Attorney General's office, the three businesspeople entered into deals with the Angolan state through the companies Sodiam, a public diamond sales company, and Sonangol, the state oil company. With these deals, the Angolan state suffered a loss of $1.14 billion. The court produced a document showing that the assets and many others owned by dos Santos had been acquired using funds from two state-owned companies. In the meantime, the Portuguese Attorney-General's Office has revealed that an investigation has been opened into a number of operations by Isabel dos Santos, following a charge laid by Ana Gomes, a Portuguese Member of the European Parliament. Following the seizure, she has assumed the UAE as her official country of residence.

Investments in Portugal[]

Since 2008 she has had interests in telecommunications, media, retail, finance and the energy industry, both in Angola and in Portugal. In addition to her commercial interest in oil and diamonds, dos Santos also owns shares in the Angola cement company . Jadeium, a company held by dos Santos, acquired 4.918% of ZON Multimedia shares from Spain's Telefonica.

Through the Netherlands-based Unitel International Holdings BV, a company controlled by dos Santos, the Angolan businesswoman is the main shareholder of ZON Multimédia with 29% since July 2012. She is member of the board of Angolan bank in Lisbon,  [pt], and through Santoro Holding she holds a 20% stake at Banco Português de Investimento. She has other major stakes with the Angolan state oil company Sonangol through their mutual European Law holding, based in the Netherlands, named Esperanza Holding, in Portuguese Galp Energia. Dos Santos is a founding member and board member of Banco BIC Português, which recently acquired Banco Português de Negócios, a nationalized bank.

Since November 2012 dos Santos is a non-executive board member of ZON. In December 2012, dos Santos announced the invitation for a merger of ZON with Sonaecom, proved in March 2013 by the General Assembly. Eight months later, after the green light from the Competition Authority, the merger of the two companies was formalized on 27 August 2013, with the transfer to ZOPT, a special purpose vehicle created to advance the operation which became the owner of more 50% of the capital of the new group, the shares that dos Santos and Sonaecom hold on Zon and Optimus respectively. There was a capital increase of ZOPT through contribution in kind from 50 to 716 million euros, while Sonaecom subscribed 358 million shares of the company, by delivering 81.8% of its stake in Optimus. The Angolan businesswoman, on her turn, subscribed exactly the same number of shares of ZOPT, through her holdings Kento and Unitel International, delivering 28.8% of the stake in ZON. With this transfer of shareholdings in Optimus and Zon, Sonaecom and dos Santos became holders of over 50% stake in the merged company: Zon Optimus SGPS. On this occasion, a new strategy for the company was announced by dos Santos, with a multimarket vision. On 1 October 2013, dos Santos attended the first General Assembly of Zon Optimus. Isabel dos Santos' investments in Portugal are in listed companies, which are therefore subject to official supervision of the Portuguese Securities Market Commission (CMVM).

In November 2014, dos Santos launched a takeover bid for Portugal Telecom, SGPS, S.A., valuing the firm's shares at €1.35 a share, in what was seen as a rival bid to a previous €7 billion offer from Altice, though the offer made by Altice is on PT Portugal, not on PT SGPS. On 1 December 2014, the Angolan businesswoman formally registered her offer at the Portuguese Securities Market Commission (Comissão do Mercado de Valores Mobiliários, CMVM, in Portuguese).

In January 2017 Unitel, led by dos Santos, officialized the purchase of 2% of Banco Fomento de Angola (BFA) from BPI for 28 million euros and now controls 51.9% of the bank's capital. The operation was approved by sector regulators, namely the National Bank of Angola (BNA) in December 2016. In February 2017 dos Santos decides to sell her position in Banco BPI, following the takeover bid launched by CaixaBank. Dos Santos arrived in 2009, stepped out[clarification needed] in 2017 and won more than 80 million euros: Santos' capital gain comes not only from the sale of the 18.5% holding on BPI, but also from the dividends from 2008 and 2009, worth around 12.6 million euros.

Investments in Angola[]

With 51% control of Condis, dos Santos signed a joint partnership with the Portuguese Sonae group in April 2011 for the development and operation of a retail trading company in Angola. The entry in Angola by the Portuguese group led by Paulo de Azevedo was to be performed by the Continente (Angola), which planned to open the first supermarket by 2013 in Angola.

Focus on telecommunications[]

She created Unitel in partnership with Portugal Telecom, after a tender process she considered fair. Also through Unitel International Holding, a platform for Unitel investments where Portugal Telecom has no presence, she acquired the mobile operator T+, in Cape Verde and gained the license for the establishment of the second telecom operator in São Tomé and Príncipe. Under this investment dos Santos announced during a visit to São Tomé and Príncipe that Unitel will invest in education in the country to train engineers, managers and other technicians and also focus on job creation.

By 2015, dos Santos owned a share of satellite-TV operator ZAP, that had in December 2013 acquired the rights to distribute Forbes in a number of Portuguese speaking countries, namely Portugal, Angola and Mozambique. It had been announced that most of the content would be produced by a local team, complemented by content for the North American edition, therefore potentially allowing influence on Forbes content. It was initially planned that the first edition of the Portuguese language Forbes would be published during the second quarter of 2014.


Holdings of dos Santos in the recent years:

  • Trans Africa Investment Services, a Gibraltar based vehicle founded together with her mother for the diamond business
  • Unitel International Holdings B.V.: change of name of Kento and Jadeium, based in Amsterdam, company-vehicle for dos Santos' investment in telecommunications
  • Santoro Finance: company-vehicle for dos Santos' investment in Banco BPI based in Lisbon
  • Esperaza Holding B.V.: based in Amsterdam, energy, oil etc.
  • Condis: a retail business based in Luanda

Luanda Leaks[]

On 19 January 2020 the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) published a detailed report on how dos Santos amassed her wealth over the years. The report – which it called Luanda Leaks – provides evidence of how she "made a fortune at the expense of the Angolan people".

The night of 22 January, just days after the leaks, her personal wealth manager and private banking director Nuno Ribeiro da Cunha was found dead in the garage of his house.


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External links[]

Media related to Isabel dos Santos at Wikimedia Commons