A sizeable email leak reveals how Isabel dos Santos, daughter of Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos, manoeuvred to win a $4.5bn (R58bn) contract to build a dam.
In one of his last acts as president, Dos Santos laid the dam’s first stone earlier this month, days before stepping down from the job he has held for the past 38 years.
The Caculo Cabaça dam project was awarded two years ago to a consortium led by China Gezhouba Group Corporation (CGGC), one of China’s top construction firms.
The tranche of emails shows that the Chinese did not win the contract alone. They had a hidden shareholder who owns almost 40% of the consortium: the president’s eldest daughter, Isabel. A substantial part of the profits will go to her family.
Emails exchanged over months by Isabel dos Santos’ lawyers and managers, CGGC partners and the Angolan department of energy show how the multimillion-dollar deal was planned, leading up to the president’s decree that the dam will be built on June 11 2015.
The government contract with the Chinese-led consortium was approved at a price of 490 million kwanza (R38bn), using a loan from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. The correspondence includes emails from Isabel dos Santos in which she provides business direction, while her lawyers ensure her name is not mentioned in any document related to the consortium.
President Dos Santos laid the Caculo Cabaça dam’s first stone on August 4. Last week, Angolans went to the polls to elect his successor, with the incumbent’s nominee, João Lourenço, looking certain to win.
Caculo Cabaça is an even bigger project than the $4.3bn Luaca dam, which President Dos Santos inaugurated the previous day. The Caculo Cabaça dam will cost $4.5bn, which is equal to 5% of Angola’s gross domestic product and its annual education budget.
When it is completed in five years, it will be a 16km-long lake in the middle of the Kwanza River, with a dam wall 100m high and 520m long. It is expected to have a power output of 2 172 megawatts, enough to electrify more than 2 million homes.
Speculation about the involvement of Isabel dos Santos in Caculo Cabaça was first reported by Angolan journalist Rafael Marques de Morais in his blog Maka Angola. Marques de Morais pinpointed her as the main beneficiary of the funding, noting her links to two companies in the consortium: 2I’S (Sociedade de Investimentos Industriais), which has its headquarters at one of her private homes, and Boreal Investments, which is nominally owned by her business representative, Fidel Araújo, who also acted as lawyer when 2I’S was registered in Luanda with six anonymous Angolans as its formal owners.
When Marques de Morais approached Isabel Dos Santos’ Portuguese media and image consultancy for comment, the company began an international campaign to discredit his work.
But the leaked emails not only confirm what Maka Angola published, they reveal previously unknown details – including that 2I’S owns 50% of the Angolan-registered company CGGC & Niara Holding Limited. The other half is held by a local subsidiary of CGGC.
But who exactly is Boreal Investments?
Aside from the fact that it was established in Hong Kong in March 2012, there is no public information about it. The company has no official website and evades online searches. In the leaks, Boreal is identified as a company with a registered capital of 10 000 Hong Kong dollars (R16 500) and an address on the 12th floor of a building on Kowloon Island operated by a company that provides virtual offices. It has no offices of its own.
In the consortium-signed agreement with the Chinese, the company is nevertheless described as having “extensive knowledge in project management” and “the resources to perform its participation in the work set out in annex 1” of the document. However, annex 1 comprises six short lines stating that Boreal gets 37.5% of the job.
What is initially referred to in the emails as Niara becomes Boreal on the eve of signing the contract – an indication that the company serves only to secure Isabel dos Santos’ position in the consortium.
After the contract was signed in 2015, lawyers asked Boreal’s representative, Araújo, for a copy of his passport, proof of residence and his CV. They also ask a manager of Socip, an Isabel dos Santos holding company in Luanda, for help.
After a few unsuccessful attempts, the Socip manager complains to Isabel dos Santos’ lawyer Inés Pinto da Costa: “What a bummer!!! I’m tired of insisting … Doesn’t Vasco have more ‘power’ over this?!”.
She is referring to Vasco Rites at Fidequity, Isabel dos Santos’ Portugal-based management consultancy.
Araújo’s CV only arrives in the middle of July and it’s very short: born in 1976, he graduated in 2001 with a law degree in Lisbon. Since 2010, he has become a board member of some of Isabel dos Santos’ firms, including an urban planning firm, two real estate companies and a hypermarket chain.
To avoid suspicion, reported Maka Angola, Fidel Araújo became a shareholder of Boreal in October last year. For all intents and purposes, that is his official role.
But not backstage.
In a statement on Monday, the Portuguese public relations firm representing Dos Santos denied that she wrote any of the emails in question. “Isabel dos Santos categorically denies being the author of the emails reproduced in the article of the weekly newspaper Expresso.
“The newspaper associates the name of the businesswoman with correspondence that, in fact, was never written or sent by her. The article contains false information and without credibility, which also puts into question how the correspondence quoted and transcribed in that article was obtained.”