Luanda Leaks: Bank of Namibia ‘went easy’ on Isabel dos Santos

Secret documents suggest Namibia’s central bank gave Isabel dos Santos’s bank the green light to open branches in the southern African nation without completing due diligence on her businesses.

Namibian financial regulators also allowed the bank to trade even though it was completely owned by overseas shareholders. This is in direct contravention of Namibian policy objectives aimed at capping foreign ownership in key business sectors.

Our chief reporter, Lionel Faull, and The Namibian’s Lazarus Amukeshe made these discoveries by trawling confidential financial records exposing the business dealings of Africa’s richest woman, as part of the Luanda Leaks international journalism project.

Embezzlement accusations

Now Ms dos Santos is facing fraud charges in Angola, according to the country’s attorney-general.

She is accused of mismanagement and embezzlement of public funds during an 18-month stint as head of Sonangol, the state oil company.

Her assets in Angola – including a telecoms company and a bank – were frozen in late December over allegations she owed the state around $1 billion.

She denies all the latest allegations made by Angolan authorities. “I have always operated within the law and all my commercial transactions have been approved by lawyers, banks, auditors and regulators,” her representatives said.

But there is uncertainty over Bank BIC’s future in Namibia after Ms dos Santos said she is selling her shares in Eurobic, a Portuguese-based sister bank she also has a substantial stake in.

Africa’s richest woman is the focus of Luanda Leaks, a collaboration coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) based on a vast trove of documents from inside dos Santos’s business empire. The leak was first passed to the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF), a Paris-based advocacy group.

UPDATE: Since this story was published, The Namibian has chased Bank BIC for their long-delayed 2018 financial statements, and revealed what they show.