The Portuguese Appetite for “Princess” Angola

The Portuguese Appetite for "Princess" Angola

It is now openly Isabel dos Santos, daughter of Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who built his empire. She who is sometimes referred in the country as “princess” is behind the bid (tender offer) of €1.2 billion launched on Sunday, November 9th, on Portugal Telecom SGPS via her company Terra Peregrin, based in Lisbon.

It is up to the financial markets whether to respond favorably or not to this offer that comes a week after that of Patrick Drahi, head of Altice, the Lusitanian assets of Portugal Telecom. Brazilian operator Oi, Portugal Telecom SGPS which holds a minority stake, has already expressed his opinion, saying the offer is “inappropriate.” But the stock market, in Lisbon, Portugal Telecom’s title, incumbent, soared 12% Monday upon the resumption of trading.

It is though difficult to thwart Isabel dos Santos and the power of money. At the head of the fortune estimated by Forbes magazine site at $3.7 billion, the richest woman in Africa has already demonstrated her clout. In Portugal, the former colonizer is today underinvested and lacking growth, she increased investments in the banking sector (BIC, BPI), oil (Galp), telecommunications (Our) and real estate – especially in the area of Cascais, the posh seaside resort around Lisbon. In Portugal, “she scares some but others find it natural,” says Celso Felipe, author of O Poder Angolano em Portugal (“The Angolan government in Portugal,” Planeta, untranslated).

“Kleptocratic” regime

The elderly of José Eduardo dos Santos – the man who ruled the African country for over thirty years – plays with the working class of his country a scenario of “kleptocratic” Angola, where he was the head of regime that confused public money and private property. An area that bursts with petrodollars, but where the majority of the population lives below the poverty line. Isabel dos Santos will obviously feel no discomfort.

The young woman, who claims to lead an “ordinary” life in Luanda, presents her action as a lever capable of reducing inequality. “How do we reduce inequality?” she explained in a rare interview over lunch (sole meuniere and Chablis for it) with the Financial Times in March 2013. “Well, by creating opportunities and more development. You wake up in the morning and get to work, you’re doing something. It will take time, but the more things happen, and things will be created. ”

Angola is gradually enriching while Portugal is suddenly depleted. Since the end of the Civil War – 1975 to 2002 – the African country, boosted by its abundant oil resources, friezes with growth rates that some years was more than 20% (+ 22.6% in 2007 according to data International Monetary Fund). For young Portuguese in search of employment, the country has become a paradise as well as Mozambique.

“Washing machine for money stolen from the people of Angola”

With this offer, the former colonized country illustrates the increasing and embarrassing financial influence of the former colonizer. The Transparency International is alarmed to see the beleaguered European countries welcome with open arms the funds coming from a country ranked 153th (out of 177) on the list of most corrupt countries in the world. “Portugal is transformed into a washing machine for money stolen from the people of Angola!” those were the accusations of the anti-corruption campaigner Rafael Marques de Morais, head of blog Maka Angola, heard several months ago.

Despite criticism, Lisbon refuses to turn its back on the money and heal diplomatic relations with Luanda. Evidenced by the willingness of the Portuguese government of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho to ease in October 2013 the crisis linked to suspicions of tax evasion and money laundering by VIPs Angola. Portugal apologized before an upset Angolan political,.

This time, this is no longer a question only of Portugal. Ambitions of Isabel dos Santos stretch way beyond. By attacking Portugal Telecom SGPS, the businesswoman is also challenging, above all, Brazil, via the operator Oi. She confirmed in a Sunday statement her wish to obtain a position of “relevant minority but not control, of the capital of Oi.” “She intends to build a telecommunications empire from Portugal to Brazil” assumed Felipe. It is no longer a question of a simple contrast of Angola to Portugal, but the entry of Angola on international financial transactions of great magnitude.

Talented “business woman”

Isabel dos Santos is gradually winning the title of a businesswoman, painfully erasing the “girl” label. A forty-something woman, a mother of the family, says in fact they have never had a taste the world of politics. “It’s very difficult, I imagine, distinguishing between father and daughter,” she explained to the Financial Times. “I do not do politics. I do the business (…). I have a sense of the business since childhood, she added, I was selling eggs when I was six.”

The political world has undoubtedly also closed its doors to the one born outside the country, Azerbaijan, Baku, one day in April 1973.

Today, though there is no doubt that the “princess” has benefited from her father’s address book to start her business, she is recognized more and more as a talented “business woman” who propelled the head of a colossal fortune. “She was able to put herself in a favouring environment” thinks Mr. Felipe. The rise of the engineer trained at King’s College London is probably also related to the qualities of his Russian mother, “Champion of chess,” recalls the Financial Times.

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