The billionaire daughter of Angola’s ex-president, Isabel dos Santos, says she would consider running for president in the next election in 2022.
Dos Santos is being probed under an anti-graft campaign launched by her father’s successor President Joao Lourenco, who has vowed to root out corruption and rebuild the economy.
Prosecutors last month froze the bank accounts and holdings owned by the 46-year-old businesswoman and her Congolese husband Sindika Dokolo.
Dos Santos has been named “Africa’s richest woman” by Forbes magazine, which last year rated her net worth at $2.2 billion (two billion euros). Among many Angolans, her wealth and privileged status have earned her the nickname of “The Princess.”
Dos Santos has denied any wrongdoing and denounced the investigation as “politically motivated.”
Asked in an interview with Portuguese state broadcaster Radio e Televisao de Portugal (RTP) whether she would run for the top job in Angola, dos Santos said it was “possible”.
“I will do everything I need to do to defend and serve my country,” she said in the interview, broadcast late Wednesday.
Angolan political activist Rafael Marques dismissed her comments as a ploy to divert attention from the “plundering of the country”.
“There are some who want to take refuge under a political cloak to say they are being persecuted for political reasons,” he told AFP.
The investigation surrounding dos Santos centres on alleged use of state-owned companies to siphon off over one billion dollars.
It is delving into irregularities involving Angola’s national oil company Sonangol and Sodiam, a national diamond marketing firm.
Dos Santos was appointed head of Sonangol by her father Jose Eduardo dos Santos in 2016, a year before he stepped down and handed the reins to Lourenco.
The president forced her out of the position within months of coming to power.
He has since launched a large-scale purge of the dos Santos administration — an iron-fisted 38-year rule during which top positions were awarded to the ex-president’s cronies and wealth was amassed by a privileged few.
Dos Santos’ half-brother Jose Filomeno — nicknamed “Zenu” — went on trial last month for allegedly embezzling $500 million from Angola’s sovereign fund, which he oversaw from 2013 to 2018.
Zenu, who faces a maximum of 12 years in jail if found guilty, is the first member of the dos Santos family to be prosecuted.
“The selective manner of this so-called fight against corruption (is being used) to neutralise future political candidates,” dos Santos told RTP, adding that she continued to be “shocked” by the allegations.
Lourenco should ‘do his job’
The dos Santos family has accused Lourenco of unfairly targeting its members.
They have pointed to former vice-president Manuel Vicente, who escaped a corruption trial in Portugal after Lourenco pushed to transfer his case in Angola.
Vincente is now a deputy of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), which has ruled the country since independence from Portugal in 1975.
“If we want to target corruption in Angola we must look (for it) where it is,” said dos Santos.
Her holdings in Angola include private banks, telecoms firm Unitel, a supermarket chain, a cement company and cable television.
“There has never been any doubt that long-term, Isabel dos Santos carries political ambitions,” Alex Vines of Chatham House think tank told AFP.
“She has deep pockets and can over time build up a support base, especially if the Angolan economic reforms fail to deliver.”
Lourenco has been falling behind on his promise to diversify Angola’s oil-dependent economy, which was hard-hit by the 2014 fall in crude prices. The country is the biggest oil exporter in sub-Saharan Africa.
Angola is still reeling from a 1975-2002 civil war, and wealth from its extensive oil, gas and mineral reserves has failed to benefit the majority of the population.
“It’s time President Lourenco focus on his job,” said dos Santos’ half-sister Welwitschia, reminding AFP that the president was hand-picked by her father.
“We had never seen hunger and even famine like we are seeing in Angola now under Mr. Lourenco’s government.”