Defying Interpol warrant, Isabel dos Santos enjoys luxurious life in Dubai

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Isabel dos Santos, Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço, Angolan, Interpol, Dos Santos family, Bulgari Resort and Residences, Dubai, Jumeirah Bay, Equinox
Image courtesy: The Times

Despite request sent to governments around the world by Interpol asking to find and provisionally arrest Israel dos Santos – Angolan former billionaire, she is living a free life and enjoying lavish lifestyle in Dubai. She even is regular on social media. A recent investigation by several organizations including the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has found documents connecting Isabel dos Santos and her mother to multiple properties on the waterfront of the United Arab Emirate’s financial hub.

It may be mentioned here that, Isabel dos Santos, eldest daughter of Angola’s former president came under intense scrutiny by authorities following publication of Luanda Leaks. She was considered as Africa’s richest woman.

While since 2019, courts in Angola, Portugal and other countries have issued orders to freeze her assets, dos Santos enjoys a free life in Dubai as finds it as safe haven.

Newly leaked Dubai property data reviewed by ICIJ reveal that dos Santos and her mother, Tatiana “Kukanova” Regan, co-own a two-bedroom apartment in a building called Sadaf, Arabic for “seashell0,” overlooking Dubai Marina on one side and the Persian Gulf on the other. The 31st-floor apartment was purchased in 2009 for nearly US$163,000, and similar-sized units go for more than $570,000 today. Regan owns another unit in the same building, which she bought in 2017 for nearly US$735,000. She has been leasing it as a rental property ever since, according to transaction data from Dubai.

Records linking owners to their properties were obtained by the Washington, DC, nonprofit Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS) and shared with ICIJ and more than 70 media outlets as part of the Dubai Unlocked investigation coordinated by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and Norwegian financial outlet E24.

The records reveal dozens of alleged criminals and political figures own or recently owned real estate in Dubai. While it is legal for politicians to buy property in Dubai, it can raise red flags if, for example, the cost is substantially greater than their income or they failed to list the property in their declaration of assets.

The revelations come on the heels of the UAE’s removal from the intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force “gray list” for facilitating money laundering and terrorist financing.

In response to questions sent in April, dos Santos said she acquired the Sadaf apartment for “personal use” using money she earned from her private companies and public appearances. She added that she has applied to challenge Interpol’s request for governments to provisionally arrest her, known as a red notice, because “it was issued with false information” by Angolan authorities.

“President Lourenco / Angolan authorities have a political motivated agenda against me and the Dos Santos family”, she wrote in an email. “They fabricate false evidence and do not allow the courts to be impartial and independent”.

Dos Santos’ mother, Regan, is the first wife of Angola’s former president José Eduardo dos Santos. Regan was born in Russia and is a citizen of the United Kingdom.

Regan worked at Angola’s state oil company Sonangol in the 1970s before divorcing her husband and moving with her daughter to London. The pair later controlled a Gibraltar company that had a 24.5 percent stake in Angola’s diamond monopoly Ascorp, according to UK court documents.

The Dubai land records also contain information about Konema Mwenenge, a business partner of dos Santos’ late husband, Sindika Dokolo, and companies he’s associated with.

Mwenenge, the French executive of a Dubai-based diamond dealing firm, owned two side-by-side apartments in a luxury complex in Jumeirah Bay known as the Bulgari Resort and Residences. Dubai’s public Land Department website shows one of those flats now belongs to Equinox Holdings Ltd. In 2015, Mwenenge used the Dubai-based Equinox to loan more than US$14 million to De Grisogono, dos Santos’ now-bankrupt jewelry company in Switzerland, according to Luanda Leaks documents.

According to the Dubai Land Department, the average rent for the unit should be between US$294,000 and US$359,000 per year, but rental information obtained by the collaboration shows that Equinox rents the apartment to dos Santos for about US$40,800, or US$3,400 a month.

Equinox also owns a handful of other units at the Bulgari Resort and Residences, including one that was bought in 2017 for just over US$2.1 million, according to transaction data obtained by the collaboration. In 2020, ICIJ found that Dokolo and dos Santos listed that apartment as their residential address on corporate documents of a Maltese shell company they used to obtain a multimillion-dollar contract with Angola’s state oil company.

The investigative outlet Bellingcat found that dos Santos has been posting photos and videos from the building complex on social media. The posts show her dancing poolside and dining at extravagant restaurants despite legal cases against her in Angola, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

Is Isabel dos Santos a victim of Angolan president?

As in her response to ICIJ, Isabel dos Santos said, she has applied to challenge Interpol’s request for governments to provisionally arrest her, known as a red notice, because “it was issued with false information” by Angolan authorities, and she said, “President Lourenço / Angolan authorities have a political motivated agenda against me and the Dos Santos family. They fabricate false evidence and do not allow the courts to be impartial and independent”, as part of ethical journalism, we have been trying to reach dos Santos, possibly with the request of interviewing her giving details of how Angolan President João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço and Angolan authorities are – out of “political agenda” are continuing various tactics to harass dos Santos and Dos Santos family. Until now, we have not heard from her.

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