In an exclusive with DW, Angolan President Joao Lourenco spoke for the first time about allegations against Africa’s richest woman, Isabel dos Santos. He also defended his role in a government led by her father.
Reports of corruption have blighted Angola since President Joao Lourenco took office in 2017, despite campaign promises to reform the economy and tackle graft.
In the latest headline-grabbing scandal, Isabel dos Santos, known as Africa’s richest woman, was accused of using her father’s influence to help build a business empire worth an estimated $2.1 billion (EUR1.9 billion), in an affair widely known as the Luanda Leaks scandal.
In an exclusive interview with DW’s Adrian Kriesch, the Angolan president spoke for the first time about the scandal. Lourenco said no one was exempt in the fight against corruption in Angola, and that there would be “no negotiations” with people who had allegedly taken their assets out of the country illegally.
“There was an opportunity to do so [negotiate],” said Lourenco. “People who were involved in acts of corruption benefited from a six-month period of grace to return assets they illegally took out of the country.”
Those alleged grafters include Isabel dos Santos, the eldest daughter of Lourenco’s predecessor, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who served as the president of Angola for 38 years.
Charges after Luanda Leaks investigation
Isabel dos Santos’ assets have been frozen in Angola. On January 22, the country’s prosecutors charged her with money laundering, influence peddling, harmful management, forgery of documents and other economic crimes during her time as head of the national oil company, Sonangol, from 2016 to 2017.
Lourenco, however, has taken a neutral perspective on the case, at least in public. “It is a judicial matter and I am not the judge,” he said, when asked if he wanted to see Isabel dos Santos behind bars.
The charges against Isabel dos Santos were brought after an investigation into the scandal led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) using more than 715,000 leaked files. She has vehemently denied the accusations, and claims she is the target of political persecution.
‘Chance for change’
Responding to criticism from opposition representatives who have said Angola’s justice system is still not independent, Lourenco said while it “may have been the case in the past…today they have absolute liberty to act. That is the reason why there are so many trials, particularly related to corruption.”
Lourenco acknowledged his role in working under the country’s ex-president and African oil mogul, and said he remains committed to tackling the country’s graft problem.
“He [dos Santos] stayed in power for almost 40 years,” said Lourenco. “We were all part of the system.
“It is precisely because I have seen these high levels of corruption — and because I think that situation shouldn’t continue — that we are fighting what we have seen for decades,” he said. “We now have got a chance for change. And this is the right time to do it.”