Saturday, 19 April 2014

The State of The Union: Diamond Girl, Isabel Dos Santos

Diamonds For Daddy's Girl: How Angola's Isabel Dos Santos Snared A Swiss Jeweller....

Back in August FORBES detailed how the richest woman in Africa, by the tender age of 40, had increased her net worth from zero to $3 billion: You have your father, the president of Angola, direct those who want to do business in the country to cut you in on their action. FORBES has learned, however, that Isabel dos Santos has added a more legitimate jewel to her crown: de Grisogono, a Swiss jeweler renowned among the Hollywood A-list for its extravagant, celebrity-studded parties in Cannes and Miami Beach and fans like Heidi Klum and Sharon Stone.

Newly uncovered documents show that a shell company called Victoria Holding Ltd. acquired 75% of de Grisogono in 2012 for more than $100 million through a subsidiary. The documents show that ownership of Victoria Holding Ltd. is evenly split between the Angolan state-owned diamond company, Sodiam, and a Dutch-registered company, Melbourne Investments. Dos Santos’ husband, Congolese businessman Sindika Dokolo, is listed as the sole beneficial owner of Melbourne Investments.

It is not clear whether Dokolo made any financial investment in Melbourne Investments or whether Melbourne contributed any cash to the purchase. Sodiam, as a state-owned company (its board, chair and CEO are all appointed by President Jose Eduardo dos Santos), is required to publicly disclose all its relevant ventures at home and abroad, but until now its partnership with Dokolo had remained a secret.

Sodiam, through its parent company, did not return calls to provide its side of the story. The chairman of de Grisogono said “no public funds or resources, namely from the Angolan State or Angolan State-owned companies, have been involved, directly or indirectly.” Dokolo has told the Portuguese press, “The mentioned investment … makes sense from a strategic point of view. …Any dollar that enters Switzerland or Europe is the object of an exhaustive verification process.” Perhaps, but it’s hard to figure out what the president’s daughter doesn’t have a stake in in Angola; even the publishing company that owns the right to license FORBES in Portuguese-speaking Africa, it turns out, is owned 70% by Isabel dos Santos, according to a press release from its co-owner, the Portuguese Zon Media. She had no comment for us.


How Forbes' Estimate Of Isabel Dos Santos' Fortune Grew From $500M to $3B In Less Than A Year

In November 2012, Forbes listed the net worth of Isabel dos Santos, the eldest daughter of Angola’s president, at $500 million. In an article published on Wednesday, we estimated her net worth at $3 billion.  Did her fortune really grow six-fold in less than a year? The short answer: No.
Some billionaires really do skyrocket at that rate over the course of a year. In Isabel dos Santos’ case, it was a matter of coming up with evidence that she owned the assets various people had gossiped about. For the 2012 Forbes list of Africa’s 40 Richest, I could only find proof of her Portuguese shareholdings – primarily stakes in cable TV company ZON Multimedia and Banco BPI Banco BPI , which together were worth about $500 million. By January 2013, with help from Angolan journalist Rafael Marques de Morais, I had gathered enough evidence to call her a billionaire, adding stakes in a bank in Angola and a low estimate of her chunk of UNITEL, the country’s leading mobile phone network. By the time Forbes published our annual billionaires’ list in March, we counted the full value of  her 25% in UNITEL –worth $1 billion– which helped push her net worth to an estimated $2 billion.

For the recent Forbes magazine article, Angolan journalist Rafael Marques de Morais connected the dots between Angolan state oil company Sonangol, Portuguese billionaire Americo Amorim, a Swiss-registered holding company called Exem Holding, and Isabel’s estimated 6.9% stake in Portuguese oil company GALP. That asset, combined with some dividends and a rising stock price at ZON, pushed Isabel dos Santos’ estimated net worth up by another $1 billion to $3 billion. She may have even more assets that could push up her net worth. If we find more, we’ll make that clear.
A spokesman for Isabel dos Santos insisted that she paid for the assets in all the companies she owns pieces of using proceeds from her earlier business ventures, but he would not provide specifics. “Mrs. Isabel dos Santos is an independent business woman, and a private investor representing solely her own interests. Her investments in Angolan and/or in Portuguese companies are transparent and have been conducted through arms-length transactions involving external entities such as reputed banks and law firms,” the spokesman said.

Despite years of combing public documents in Angola, my co-author Rafael Marques de Morais could not find public records showing how much Isabel dos Santos paid for her stakes – records that are typically published in the government’s Daily Gazette.
Watchdog organizations like Global Witness have written about missing assets and murky dealings in Angola in the past. “The looting of the Angolan state by a corrupt elite is a tragedy for the Angolan people. The country’s oil and mining sector continues to be opaque and riven with corruption,” says Global Witness campaigner Barnaby Pace. “In deals for the state’s natural resources it must be clear exactly what payments are being made, to whom and for what; also, who won the deal, how they won it, and who ultimately stands to profit. Only when this is achieved will Angolan citizens be able to hold their leaders to account.”

In Angola, Isabel dos Santos has the reputation of a more serious business person than some of her siblings do, says Marissa Moorman, a professor at Indiana University and an expert on Angola. The siblings are known for being involved with lighter-weight endeavors –glossy magazines or music projects, rather than Isabel’s stakes in the leading mobile phone network, a large bank, the country’s cement company and, previously, the Angolan diamond business. “She’s both respected and feared as a business person,” says Moorman, who lived in Angola for 10 months in 2010 and 2011. Isabel dos Santos is known for having good people skills, and even went on the Angolan equivalent of the Jay Leno show, Moorman added.

What do most Angolans think about her vast wealth? Says Moorman: “I don’t think anyone’s naïve about where her wealth came from.”



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