JOHANNESBURG — Isabel dos Santos, who is often described as Africa’s richest woman, has denounced as “politically motivated” an Angolan court order to seize an estimated $1 billion worth of her assets.
Dos Santos, the 46-year-old daughter of former Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, has a fortune estimated at $2.2 billion by Forbes magazine.
An Angolan court on Dec. 23 ordered her bank accounts frozen and her shares in local companies seized, including ones from the Unitel telecommunications firm, the BFA bank and the cement company Cimangola, according to Angola’s state news agency.
The move is seen as part of President Joao Lourenco’s anti-corruption drive. Eduardo dos Santos’s 38-year rule as president was marked by widespread corruption in which billions of dollars of state funds went missing, according to investigations by international financial institutions.
In a statement Wednesday on Twitter, Dos Santos condemned the seizures as a “politically motivated attack” against her. She claimed the trial was held in “total secrecy” and she was not able to “answer the trumped-up charges … which were based on fabricated documents.”
Dos Santos vowed to “use all the instruments of Angolan and international law at my disposal to fight this order and ensure the truth comes out.”
She heads a vast business empire, controlling companies in Angola and Portugal. Fluent in Portuguese and English, dos Santos describes herself on Twitter as an “engineer, entrepreneur, investor, public figure.” She says she succeeded in amassing such wealth because of her education and her business acumen, not because of her father’s connections.
She now lives outside of Angola because she says she faces death threats at home.
Angola has sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest economy as a result of its oil and diamonds. But Angola’s wealth has failed to bring economic development and the country’s education and health standards for its 32 million people are abysmally low, according to the U.N.
In 2016, toward the end of his rule, Eduardo dos Santos appointed his daughter as the head of Angola’s state-owned oil firm, Sonangol, and it seemed that the dos Santos family would continue to benefit from the country’s wealth.
But after he stepped down as president in 2017, his personally chosen successor, Lourenco, began an anti-corruption drive. He sacked Isabel dos Santos from the state oil firm and his government has taken steps to recover large amounts of money from abroad.
Her brother, Jose Filomeno dos Santos, is currently being tried in Angola for allegedly helping to smuggle $500 million out of the country when he was head of Angola’s Sovereign Wealth Fund. He denies the charges.