Angola’s Isabel dos Santos denies graft allegations by oil firm chief

Isabel Dos Santos

LUANDA – Isabel dos Santos, daughter of Angola’s former president, has denied allegations of suspicious activity during her tenure as head of state oil firm Sonangol made by the current chair of the company, describing them as “slanderous”.

Dos Santos ranked Africa’s wealthiest woman by Forbes, said in a statement issued late on Sunday that she would take all measures to protect her reputation and rejected accusations of wrongdoing made by Sonangol Chairman Carlos Saturnino last week.

Saturnino said an internal audit at Sonangol uncovered a transaction of $38 million(R449.92 million) made to a Dubai-headquartered company that was approved by dos Santos after she had been dismissed from Sonangol.

Dos Santos said the payment was “totally legitimate” and made for consultancy services, adding that under Angolan law, dismissed public officials are obliged to continue in their roles until a replacement is sworn in.

No payments were approved by the old board after the new one had been sworn in, she said.

“The attempts of Carlos Saturnino to rewrite history are the result, in my understanding, of a return to the culture of irresponsibility and dishonesty which sunk Sonangol in the first place,” dos Santos said.

Angola’s public prosecutor’s office said on Friday it had opened an investigation into the alleged events described by Saturnino at Sonangol – the most important company in a country that relies on oil for 95 percent of its exports.

President João Lourenço has promised to tackle graft since he took over from Jose Eduardo dos Santos last September, though this is the first high-profile investigation against a member of the Angolan elite.

Another question raised by Saturnino concerned why a joint venture partner was allowed to repay a euro-denominated debt in Angolan Kwanza, on which there exists a large arbitrage between official and street rates.

Dos Santos said the partnership dated back to well before her tenure and had been a successful business venture.