Authorities in Angola have said they will use “all possible” means to bring back Isabel dos Santos, the billionaire daughter of the country’s former president, after thousands of leaked documents revealed new allegations she siphoned off hundreds of millions in public money.
Dubbed Africa’s richest woman, dos Santos is accused of using her father’s backing to plunder state funds from the oil-rich but impoverished southern African country and – with the help of Western consulting firms – move the money offshore.
She stopped living in Angola after her father Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who ruled the country for nearly 40 years, stepped down in 2017 and was replaced by Joao Lourenco.
The 46-year-old dos Santos, who spends her time between London and Dubai, has rejected the allegations made against her as”completely unfounded.”
Speaking on public radio on Monday, Helder Pitra Gros, Angola’s prosecutor general, said: “We will use all possible means and activate international mechanisms to bring Isabel dos Santos back to the country.”
He added: “We have asked for international support from Portugal, Dubai and other countries.”
The remarks came after a trove of hundreds of thousands of files dubbed the “Luanda Leaks” on Sunday showed how the eldest daughter of the former president allegedly moved the vast sums into overseas assets.
The award-winning New York-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) behind the release alleged the international system has allowed powerful individuals like her to move assets around the world, without questions.
“Based on a trove of more than 715,000 files, our investigation highlights a broken international regulatory system that allows professional services firms to serve the powerful with almost no questions asked,” the ICIJ wrote.
The group said its team of 120 reporters in 20 countries was able to trace “how an army of Western financial firms, lawyers, accountants, government officials and management companies helped (dos Santos and her husband) hide assets from tax authorities”.
Dos Santos took to Twitter to refute the claims, launching a salvo of around 30 tweets in Portuguese and English, accusing journalists involved in the investigation of telling “lies”.
“My fortune is built on my character, my intelligence, education, capacity for work, perseverance,” she wrote.
Dos Santos was named Africa’s first female billionaire in 2013 by Forbes, which estimates her current wealth at more than $2bn.
Her lawyer dismissed the ICIJ findings as a “highly coordinated attack” orchestrated by Angola’s current rulers, in a statement quoted by The Guardian newspaper.
Dos Santos herself told BBC Africa the file dump was part of a “witch-hunt” meant to discredit her and her father.
She was appointed to run Angola’s national oil company Sonangol in 2016, but was removed from the job by Lourenco the following year.
“Red flags really went up when she was appointed head of the state oil company at a time when her father still had significant influence,” said Daniel Bruce, who heads the UK branch of anti-corruption campaign group Transparency International.
“You could see there were major conflicts of interest starting to emerge,” he added.
Dos Santos is already being investigated as part of an anti-graft campaign launched by Lourenco, who who has pledged to root out corruption.
Prosecutors last month froze bank accounts and holdings owned by the businesswoman and her Congolese-Danish husband Sindika Dokolo, a move dos Santos described as motivated by a groundless political vendetta.