counter attack

Isabel dos Santos accuses Angola of fake documents to freeze her assets

In this March 5, 2015 photo, Isabel dos Santos, attends the opening of an art exhibition featuring works from the collection of her husband and art collector Sindika Dokolo in Porto, Portugal. (AP Photo/Paulo Duarte)

Shocked at the beginning of the year by the "Luanda Leaks", the businesswoman and eldest daughter of former Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos is accusing the Angolan justice system of relying on false documents to freeze her assets in Angola and Portugal.

The counter-attack is spectacular. It follows from the explosive reveals in mid-January by the “Luanda Leaks” which had exposed the shadowy areas of Isabel dos Santos’ financial empire.

READ MORE Angola: Isabel dos Santos indicted for embezzlement and more

In a statement published on Tuesday 12 May, the businesswoman and daughter of former President dos Santos said the Angolan justice system used a forged passport in the case that led to the freezing of her assets in the country and then in Portugal.

The announcement, sent by a British public relations agency to several media including Jeune Afrique, is the first public response by Isabel dos Santos (apart from her messages on social networks) in the arm wrestling between her and the Angolan authorities and the current head of state, her father’s successor, João Lourenço.

Surprisingly, as indicated in the press release, the forged passport in the name of Isabel dos Santos does not bear her signature but that of Bruce Lee, the famous kung fu actor. It also notes an erroneous date of birth and an incorrect passport number. The press release also mentions forged emails that were allegedly used to attest to Isabel dos Santos’ willingness to make money transfers abroad.

READ MORE Angola: Where did all the money go? Part 1, a family feast

“Isn’t it now clear that the Angolan authorities’ objective was to obtain an emergency seizure of assets at any cost to prevent me from defending myself and causing the bankruptcy of the companies in which I invested and managed?” asked Isabel dos Santos in the statement, which also called on Portugal to “take note of these new elements in order to release the assets seized in an irregular manner”.

Credible accusation?

The Angolan Public Prosecutor’s Office, when asked, did not react immediately. When questioned previously on this case, he recalled that it was handled by the Provincial Court of Luanda. However, when questioned, a source close to the case on the side of the Angolan authorities questioned the credibility of such an accusation against justice, speaking of an attempt at “diversion”.

READ MORE Angola exposé: President João Lourenço breaks the mould 

To lead her defence, Isabel dos Santos, who has been entrusting her communication for several years to the Portuguese agency PLMJ, has this time called on a new player: the English public relations agency Powerscourt and its associate director Victoria Palmer-Moore.

Founded in 2004 by former Sunday Times business journalist Rory Godson, the agency specializes in crisis management and reputation issues. It has offices in Dublin and London, where Isabel dos Santos has been based since she left Luanda in the summer of 2018.

At the end of December 2019, the Angolan judiciary preventively froze her assets in order to obtain payment to the state of an estimated $1.1bn in damages, a procedure contested by the businesswoman.

READ MORE: Life after power: the bitter exile of Angola’s ex-president Dos Santos

In mid-February, the Portuguese judiciary followed suit, responding to a request from Angola in the context of an investigation into mismanagement and misappropriation of funds during Isabel dos Santos’ tenure as head of the state-owned oil company Sonangol.

After accusations of embezzlement of public funds and conflicts of interest brought to light by the Luanda Leaks, this decision by the Portuguese court had inevitably changed the international image of the businesswoman.