- Isabel dos Santos, daughter of Angolan president José Eduardo dos Santos, has won a massive part of a 4.5 billion USD contract to construct a dam in her own country
- She used a proxy company registered in Hong Kong to secure the deal approved by her own father, reveals a leak obtained by Der Spiegel and shared with the European Investigative Collaborations (EIC) network
Text written by Micael Pereira for Expresso (Portugal)
The Kwanza River in Angola is about to experience an epic transformation. Its banks will swell with a 16 kilometre-long lake, dammed by a wall 100 metres high and over half a kilometre long - in a hydropower project designed to power two million homes.
This is the largest ever public work approved by the southwest African republic, and comes at a time when the country has seen its growth slashed by almost half. This economic slowdown followed a collapse in the price of oil, a commodity which accounts for 97 per cent of Angola's exports.
The country's 74 year-old President José Eduardo dos Santos laid the first stone on the dam on 4 August in one of his last acts of office, as he retired after almost four decades in power.
Dos Santos wanted to leave a majestic legacy.
The new 2,172 megawatt hydropower project will cost 4.5 billion USD, the equivalent of five per cent of Angola's GDP and the state's annual budget for education.
China won the contract in 2015 with a consortium led by one of its largest construction companies, CGGC.
But a leak obtained by German news magazine Der Spiegel and shared with EIC (European Investigative Collaborations), an investigative media network of which Expresso is a partner, shows that the Chinese did not win the contract alone.
The hidden partner, with almost 40 per cent of the consortium, is a pair of companies overseen by the president's eldest daughter Isabel, a 44 year-old businesswoman and graduate of King's College, London.
Dozens of e-mails exchanged over months by lawyers and managers of Isabel dos Santos, CGGC partners and the Angolan Ministry of Energy and Waters show how the multimillion-dollar deal was set up behind the scenes.
This happened before the President signed a decree on 11 June 2015 to approve the public contact with the Chinese led consortium, using a loan granted to the Angolan state by the Chinese bank ICBC.
The exchange of correspondence gathered by EIC includes emails from the president's daughter herself, in which Isabel dos Santos has the last word on the business.
At the same time her lawyers made sure her name would not be mentioned in any document related to the consortium.
Her involvement in the project has already been revealed in an article by Angolan journalist and activist Rafael Marques de Morais, published on his blog Maka Angola, in which the president's daughter was singled out as the main beneficiary of the dam's funding.
Rafael Marques de Morais showed that two companies involved in the consortium pointed to the president’s daughter. The first was 2I'S - Sociedade de Investimentos Industriais, with its headquarters in one of the businesswoman's private residences.
The second was Boreal Investments Limited, held by Fidel Araújo, an Angolan who represents Isabel's businesses. Araújo is both the official shareholder of Boreal, and acted as a lawyer in the registration of 21'S in the Angolan capital of Luanda.
According to the article, 2I'S owns 50 per cent of CGGC & Niara Holding, an Angolan-registered firm. The remaining 50 per cent is held by CGGC-Engenharia de Angola, a local subsidiary of the Chinese construction firm CGGC.
The new leak backs up the involvement of Isabel through a proxy in the dam procurement, but also reveals more.
In April 2015, an email exchange between lawyers from Angola-based law firm Gla Advogados and the Lisbon law firm PLMJ, states that CGGC & Niara Holding “is a joint venture they have created for these projects they are doing together” according to PLMJ lawyer Inês Pinto da Costa.
This will concern the negotiation of the public contract for the Caculo Cabaça dam.
Inês Pinto da Costa also represents Isabel Dos Santos, and CGGC & Niara Holding includes the same name as another company, Niara Holding, incorporated in 2009 on the island of Madeira, Portugal. Isabel dos Santos owns 90 per cent of this firm.
Niara Holding of Madeira was an instrument for the Angolan businesswoman to take over one of the largest Portuguese hydropower engineering companies, Efacec Power Solutions, in 2015.
A few days after the exchange of emails between the Lisbon and Luanda legal offices, on 4 May 2015, lawyer Inês Pinto da Costa sends an attachment to Lisbon-based business and financial management consultancy Fidequity.
This is a revised version of a draft contract between the Angolan Ministry of Energy and CGGC & Niara Holding for the first phase of the work on Caculo Cabaça.
Fidequity is the personal management company of the president's daughter for all her businesses inside and outside Angola. The person overseeing the Caculo Cabaça dossier at Fidequity is Vasco Rites, a manager specialised in financial structures and real estate.
On 8 May 2015, a CGGC official in Luanda, by the name of Ricardo but using the e-mail address of Shang Zhipeng, the local representative of the Chinese company, sends an email to Vasco Rites.
'Ricardo' asks the manager of Fidequity for help: “We would like you, Dr. Vasco, to give us suggestions to complete this work, as the contractor will be a consortium composed of CGGC International, Niara and CGGC & Niara Holding."
But what if there is a competitive tender? Was there a chance that CGGC would fail to win the contract?
In May 2015, Inês Pinto da Costa sends Vasco Pires at Fidequity a proposal for a memorandum of understanding with a clause in which the government would commit to guarantee exclusive rights to the consortium, preventing other companies from competing to build the dam.
But this clause is not needed, as only if CGGC wins the contract can the project be financed by a loan granted by the Chinese state bank ICBC.
The memorandum clearly states that if Angola does not hire the Chinese construction consortium, there is no loan.
And without a loan, there will be no dam.
“In fact, the award to CGGC/Niara is already mandatory,” admits the lawyer.
On 29 May 2015, an email to Vasco Rites mentions for the first time the price of the dam: four billion dollars.
By then, a correspondence has been happening for weeks between the Fidequity manager and Fernando Barros Gonga, the general director of GAMEK, a department in the Angolan Ministry of Energy directly responsible for the dam project. They have been reviewing the terms of the agreement.
From that moment, it only takes a week to complete. On 4 June 2015, lawyer Inês Pinto da Costa sends the Angolan president’s daughter, Isabel dos Santos, the reviewed version of the consortium contract.
By 5 June 2015, On the following day, the lawyer and manager Vasco Rites sends Isabel an “interparties agreement” between the companies of the consortium. The documents regulate “the relation” between the three parties “in addition to that arising from the Consortium Agreement”.
In a couple of hours all the documents are completed and signed. The cost of the project, however, rises from four billion to 4.5 billion dollars. On the government side, the dam award contract is signed by GAMEK's Gonga.
The format of the consortium is fixed in a definitive agreement. It consists of three companies. In addition to CGGC, with 60 per cent of the consortium, and CGGC & Niara Holding with 2.5 per cent, is a new company - Boreal Investments Limited - with a stake of 37.5 per cent. In the documents CGGC is represented by He Yongjun, Boreal by Fidel Araújo, and CGGC & Niara Holding by both these individuals.
On this date, Isabel shows her caring side. She insists on corporate social responsibility, by approving by e-mail a parallel memorandum signed between the consortium and the Government in which the group of companies undertakes to invest up to 50 million dollars in “social projects”, including the restoration of a training center in Luanda.
“Can I ask you if everything is ok with this documents?” lawyer Inês Pinto da Costa writes to her.
“Approved,” replies the business woman. “I agree.”
But what exactly is Boreal Investments Limited, this company with over a third of a 4.5 billion dollar dam contract?
Established on March 2012 in Hong Kong, the company has no official website and is off the radar in Google searches. In the leaked document Boreal is identified as having a registered capital of 10,000 Hong Kong dollars with its headquarters in a room of a tower block on Kowloon Island operated by a company that provides virtual offices [it has since relocated to another room in another tower block on Kowloon Island].
Boreal has neither its own office nor, most likely, any workers. In the consortium's signed agreement with the Chinese, however, the company is described as having “extensive knowledge in project management” and as having “the resources to perform its participation in the work set out in Annex 1” of the document. However, Annex 1 is only six lines long. All it states is that Boreal gets 37.5 per cent of the job.
In the e-mails, the company initially referred to as Niara becomes Boreal on the eve of signing the contract with the Government. With Isabel's representative Fidel Araújo at the helm, this is an indication that Boreal is a company that serves only to secure the position of Isabel in the consortium.
Boreal's representative Fidel Araújo did not reply to questions sent by Expresso and EIC. There was also no response from Isabel dos Santos, the lawyer Inês Pinto da Costa, manager Vasco Rites, Angolan state official Fernando Barros Gonga and CGGC director He Yonggjun.
UPDATE Following our publication, Isabel dos Santos launched an attack on Twitter against EIC Network and the partner media, Expresso in Portugal, and Mediapart in France.
She accused us of hacking into law firm computers.
And also of being paid by her political opponents to produce fake news.
Although there is a discrepancy in this argument, between whether the information was true and was the subject of a hacking, or a fake piece of black propaganda.
FORTUNE Isabel dos Santos is the richest woman in Africa, with a wealth currently estimated at 3.5 billion dollars, according to American magazine Forbes. She does not like criticism and it seems she is prepared to pay to quash investigations into her dealings. After the journalist and activist Rafael Marques de Morais published an article at Forbes in 2013 about how the businesswoman built her fortune, Isabel bought Forbes publishing rights for Portugal and Angola.
TRANSPARENCY Along with the value of Isabel dos Santos’ wealth, Forbes published a statement from the Angolan businesswoman in which she states that she is “is an independent business woman and a private investor representing solely her own interests”. She declares that her investments in Angolan and/or in Portuguese companies are transparent and have been conducted through arms length's transactions involving external entities such as reputed banks and law firms. However, despite numerous attempts, newspaper Expresso was never able to obtain the public registry documents of the companies based in Angola that Isabel controls.
ENERGY Isabel owns about seven per cent of Galp Energia, the third largest Portuguese company. The businesswoman controls this position indirectly, through a cascade scheme of companies in the Netherlands and Switzerland. In one of these holding companies, Dutch-based Esperaza Holding, she is a partner of Sonangol, the Angolan state oil company of which she has been an executive president since June 2016. In 2015 she bought Efacec, a leading Portuguese engineering company specialised in energy.
BANKING In Angola, Isabel controls the banks BFA (through Unitel, in which she has a 51.9 per cent stake) and bank BIC (with 42.5 per cent). In Portugal, she owns BIC Português (former BPN).
TELECOM Isabel owns 25 per cent of the telecom company NOS in Portugal. In Angola, she controls Unitel, the largest mobile operator, and cable and satellite television services ZAP.
DIAMONDS Isabel owns the Swiss jewellery brand De Grisogono.
ANYTHING ELSE? Yes. She has a cement factory Nova Cimangola, a hypermarket chain Candando and a beer and soft drinks factory Sodiba.
TO WHOM SHE DOES SHE OWE ALL THIS? When Le Monde profiled Isabel, journalists interviewed her husband, the art collector and businessman Sindika Dokolo, on the subject of her fortune. He was more candid than his wife has been, stating that part of her success was due to her proximity to the President. He went on to describe the situation in Africa.
"I am open about criticism regarding nepotism and corruption," said Dokolo. "If the only solution is an enlightened nepotism, it doesn't bother me. What's most important for me is to create an African elite capable to think, capable to face the occidental people and to reverse the balance of power. I don't accept that us, the wealthy Africans, should apologize or justify ourselves. I prefer that the wealth of the continent goes to a corrupt Black than to a neocolonialist White."
Yann Philippin, from Mediapart, contributed to this report