Tracking a Princess: Using Public Records to Trace the Assets of Africa’s Richest Woman

In December 2019, prosecutors in Angola froze the assets of billionaire Angolan businesswoman Isabel José dos Santos. She is set to be charged with crimes related to enriching herself at the expense of the state.

Although dos Santos hails from a country where nearly 50 percent of the population lives on under $2 per day, her acquired wealth allows her to enjoy luxuries including multimillion-dollar properties around the world and a $32 million superyacht. Her father, former President José Eduardo dos Santos, ruled Angola for 38 years—during which time she built her own empire. Despite this, she portrays herself as a self-made billionaire.

Dos Santos denies any wrongdoing and argues that the funds sent to her companies, including those in secretive offshore jurisdictions, were acquired legally and for legitimate business purposes. The charges she is set to stand trial for include embezzlement, forgery of documents, influence peddling, and harmful management.

In this report, we focus on three of dos Santos’s major business ventures tied to her alleged criminal activity to illustrate how public records can be a useful tool for exploring networks involved in major financial crime: the Sodiam – Grisogono scheme, the Sonangol restructuring scheme, and the Marginal da Corimba development fiasco. Using public records to trace such a large and convoluted commercial network like that of dos Santos can bolster domestic or international criminal investigations and help companies manage financial risk.

Download the Isabel dos Santos Report.

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