Isabel dos Santos. Picture: REUTERS/TOBY MELVILLE
Isabel dos Santos. Picture: REUTERS/TOBY MELVILLE

Luanda — Angola has offered investors diamond exploration licences that previously belonged to Isabel dos Santos, daughter of the former president, according to a video clip of a closed-door meeting with mining companies seen by Reuters.

During the meeting at Mining Indaba in Cape Town in February, the president of state diamond company Endiama, José Manuel Ganga Júnior, said the licenses had expired and were now available for new exploration partners.

Isabel dos Santos is Africa’s richest woman with assets across multiple sectors in Angola and Portugal from jewellery to supermarkets. Her family has been a powerful force in Angola for four decades but her star has faded since her father, former president José Eduardo dos Santos, stepped down in 2017.

His successor, President João Lourenço, promised to tackle family monopolies and make Angola more attractive to investors.

He dismissed her as chairperson of state oil company Sonangol, Angola’s most important firm, in November.

The licences for primary deposits mentioned in slides accompanying the presentation, a copy of which Reuters has also seen, were for Camafuca-Camazambo, Mulepe, Sangamina, Chiri and Tchiegi. All are located in the north-eastern diamond producing provinces of Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul.

A source in the Angolan diamond industry said the Camafuca-Camazambo and Chiri licences had previously been in the hands of Isabel dos Santos.

Representatives for Isabel dos Santos did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"It is true that these kimberlites (a geological formation of igneous rock in which diamonds are sometimes found) we presented to promote and offer for exploration were already granted as licences in the past, many years ago," Ganga Junior said in the video.

A spokesperson at Endiama confirmed that the video was authentic and that the licences were offered to investors. The ministry of natural resources directed questions to the state company.

"These licences have expired … At this time, we don’t have any commitment with any former owners of these projects," Ganga Junior said.

Angola is one of the world’s top 5 diamond producers, but much of the territory remains underexplored due to 27 years of civil war and a closed, difficult business environment since fighting ended in 2002.

Lourenço took power in September and says he wants to shed Angola’s image as an opaque oil economy with rampant corruption.

He wants to attract international investors and has made changes to wrest power from Dos Santos, pushing out some of his key allies.

Russia’s Alrosa is the only major diamond company currently producing in Angola via its stake in the Catoca mine — one of the world’s largest.

"We are ready to start from zero to negotiate in the best conditions, the best possibilities for the good of Endiama, our country and potential shareholders," Ganga Junior said.

"Apart from Endiama which has to be a partner by law, the rest is open." Investigation into Dos Santos Meanwhile, prosecutors opened an investigation into possible corruption at Sonangol on Friday, about when it was run by Isabel dos Santos.

Investigators will probe "irregular financial transfers" reported by Sonangol’s new management, prosecutors said in a statement.

Sonangol’s new CEO Carlos Saturnino angrily criticised the financial management of his predecessor during a results briefing on Wednesday.

"We started in our roles on November 16 2017, and tonight we note that the former finance director ordered the transfer of $38m to a company in Dubai," he said.

The transfer was executed by Banco BIC, a bank at which Dos Santos was a director.

Sonangol announced in December that it had opened an internal inquiry after discovering suspicious financial transfers with a value of tens of millions of dollars.

Dos Santos has used her personal Twitter account to deny any impropriety.

Reuters and AFP