Isabel Dos Santos hires US lobbyist for $5m to fight arrest warrant

By Julian Pecquet
Posted on Wednesday, 30 November 2022 21:36, updated on Thursday, 1 December 2022 12:47

Angolan businesswoman Isabel dos Santos after the screening of the film "A Little Brother" at the 75th edition of the Cannes Film Festival, 27 May 2022. © Loïc Venance/AFP

One of Africa’s richest women has hired a US lobbying firm for a small fortune to try to enrol the Joe Biden administration’s help as international law enforcement closes in around her.

Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of former Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos, has hired Washington-based Stryk Global Diplomacy to fight corruption charges brought by the current government. The contract is effective 1 December and is worth up to $5m, according to a lobbying filing with the US Department of Justice obtained by The Africa Report.

The firm, formerly known as Sonoran Policy Group, will “engage with the United States Government to expose the Human Rights crimes and abuses of Angolan President João Lourenço,” the filing states, “and will perform additional duties on an agreed upon basis.”

The contract comes as Angolan Attorney General Hélder Pitta Gróz this week confirmed that his office was seeking international support from Interpol in arresting Dos Santos, whose whereabouts are unknown. The Angolan government opened a criminal case against her back in 2018, accusing her of bilking the country out of more than $200m in state funds under her father’s 38-year rule from 1979 to 2017.

Firm owner Robert Stryk said Dos Santos has hired him to provide a “global response” including lobbying against sanctions in the US, filing a protest with Interpol and setting up interviews with international media. He described the case against his client as a “family feud” between the Lourenço and Dos Santos clans.

“She’s taking the fight right to them for the first time,” Stryk told The Africa Report in a phone interview from London.

Pushing back

Over the past week, Dos Santos has broken her media silence to denounce what she calls an orchestrated smear campaign by the Lourenço administration. She denies accusations of corruption and embezzlement of public funds linked in particular to her 18 months as head of national oil company Sonangol in 2016-2017.

“I have the intelligence services against me, a public prosecutor against me, a president against me, a state against me in an unjust attack,” she told Portuguese-language television channel Deutsche Welle (DW) in a 24 November interview.

“I have never used Sonangol’s money or my position in the company for my own benefit,” she claims, but rather made many “enemies” while trying to restructure and clean up the oil company, a behemoth of the Angolan economy.

Stryk, a West Coast winery owner whose connections to the Donald Trump administration helped him become a top lobbyist for foreign clients in recent years, has represented Dos Santos’ Lisbon-based company Terra Peregrin since December 2019, according to lobbying records. During the Trump administration he helped stave off sanctions requests against her brought by the Lourenço government, he said.

Dos Santos hasn’t fared as well under the Biden administration, however.

Last year, to mark International Anti-Corruption Day on 9 December, the State Department imposed a travel ban on Dos Santos “for her involvement in significant corruption by misappropriating public funds for her personal benefit.” Two generals close to the former president – Leopoldo Fragoso do Nascimento ‘Dino’ and Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias ‘Kopelipa’ – were sanctioned by the US Treasury Department under the ‘Global Magnitsky’ sanctions programme.

Stryk pointed out that the US Treasury Department has not sanctioned Dos Santos, leaving any US assets untouched. He said she has family in the United States and is asking the State Department to overturn her visa ban.

The filing lists Dos Santos’ London-based lawyer, Grosvenor Law senior partner Dan Morrison, as a point of contact. Stryk said he’s not working for the law firm but listed it on his lobbying registration with the Department of Justice because Dos Santos doesn’t want to reveal where she is for fear of arrest.

“Of course she’s not going to put her own address,” he said.

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