How African billionaire Isabel Dos Santos cropped up in Panama Papers

African billionaire whose companies in Malta hold Angola state involvements has had to deny that her business manager sought to open an offshore company for her

Isabel dos Santo (right) with Mario da Silva, who is the director of several of her Malta companies
Isabel dos Santo (right) with Mario da Silva, who is the director of several of her Malta companies

The Portuguese wealth manager of a Luxembourgish bank had to deny claims that he had opened offshore companies for PEPs, by way of explaining how his bank refused to open accounts for an associate of Isabel dos Santos, Africa’s richest woman and the daughter of Angolan dictator Eduoardo dos Santos

Billionaire Isabel dos Santos has an important Malta connection, because the island hosts companies which are partly owned by the Angolan state and Dos Santos, a fact that opens her up to accusations of having built her wealth on the back of the resource-rich African state.
Indeed it is Dos Santos’s associate, Mario Leite da Silva, who has been mentioned in connection with the Panama Papers, which news in Portugal focused on the role of Jorge Cunha, a wealth manager at the International Bank of Luxembourg (IBL) who would set up offshore companies for his clients with Mossack Fonseca.

None of his 12 clients had any political activities, but the Panama Papers show that Cunha made an explicit request about offshore companies for politically exposed persons (PEPs).

In one email, Cunha explained that IBL was closing accounts for European customers who were “not prepared to declare their funds in countries of origin”. In 2014, at a meeting with Mossack Fonseca, Cunha revealed that one of his customers was the “president of a country” seeking to incorporate about 15 Panamanian companies.

Cunha subsequently denied with the Portuguese press that he had created offshore companies for PEPs. To clarify with journalists that IBL had not provided these services to politicians, Cunha finally noted that he had even been approached to open an account for Isabel dos Santos, daughter of Angola’s president. “I came to have a meeting in Lisbon with business manager Mário Leite da Silva, a manager of Sartorial Asset Management,” he said.

Contacted by the Portuguese media partners of the International Consortium of Journalists, Isabel dos Santos denied “categorically the existence of any relationship with the company and what the bank said”.

Dos Santos and Malta

Mário Leite da Silva appears as the director of several Dos Santos companies based in Malta: Winterfell Industries and its subsidiary Winterfell 2, amongst others.

Winterfell Industries is actually partly-owned (40%) by Angolan state-owned energy company ENDE, and Niara Holdings (60%) which is itself owned by Isabel dos Santos and Carana Management, a company registered in Cyprus since 2010, whose beneficial ownership is unknown.

Da Silva is also the director of another Malta company, Kento Holdings, which is owned by Dos Santos and her husband Sindika Dokolo; and Victoria Holding.

Victoria Holding is also partly owned by the Angola state-owned diamond corporation’s trading arm, Sodiam, and a company believed to be Dokolo’s, Melbourne Investments.

Most of Dos Santos’s Malta-registered companies include Noel Buttigieg Scicluna, the former Nationalist MP and ambassador, as non-executive director.

Valued at $3 billion by Forbes, Dos Santos is a major force in industries such as diamonds, banking and telecommunications, especially since she herself holds stakes in her own country’s state corporations.