Angola freezes assets of Africa’s richest woman

The essentials: A court in Luanda ordered the freezing of assets belonging to billionaire Isabel dos Santos and the seizure of her stakes in local companies last Monday. Dos Santos is the daughter of Angola’s former president José Eduardo dos Santos and is accused of siphoning funds that have cost the country more than $1 billion, according to a court document released in late December.

The context: Dos Santos, her husband Sindika Dokolo and Mário Leite da Silva, chairman of the Angolan Foment Bank are the three affected by the asset freeze in one of Angola's highest-profile corruption cases yet. Dos Santos has criticised the government's move on social media, accusing the present administration of a witch hunt.

Isabel dos Santos amassed tremendous wealth under the rule of her father who ruled Angola for 38 years. His reign ended with a 2017 election that saw President João Lourenço, a former defense minister win at the polls. Despite being handpicked by Dos Santos, Lourenço has waged an anti-corruption war in the country, working to dismantle the former president’s hold on government institutions.

In 2017, Lourenço removed Isabel Dos Santos as the chair of the board of Sonangol, the state-owned oil firm. She was forced to exit the company eventually. Her brother, José Filomeno dos Santos is also facing trial for illegally transferring funds from Fundo Soberano de Angola (FSDEA), the country's sovereign wealth fund he headed under his father.

The good: Angola is Africa’s second-largest oil producer and corruption, nepotism and theft have kept millions in poverty for a long time. It’s commendable that President Lourenço’s administration is investigating people, including the powerful and wealthy, suspected of stealing from the country.

The bad: Isabel dos Santos says the freeze on her accounts means she cannot pay the 20,000 workers she claims her companies employ. Dos Santos has stakes in oil, energy, finance, retail and telecoms sectors, within Angola and in Europe. While analysts are skeptical that the freeze should affect workers’ salaries at all, the challenge will be for the government to ensure that they are not punishing thousands of workers alongside their employer.

The future: While José Filomeno dos Santos is facing trial, his sister Isabel dos Santos is in self-imposed exile in an undisclosed African country, according to the Financial Times. She has vowed to fight the government in court and it seems that will remain her only option, as her father seems to have lost all influence over his successor.