2020 Excellence in Collaboration and Partnerships finalist

Luanda Leaks

About the Project

Luanda Leaks exposes the inner workings of a global business empire fueled by hundreds of millions of dollars in public money spirited out of one of the poorest countries on the planet.

Project partners included: International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, FRONTLINE, Expresso, The New York Times and 33 other media partners.

Drawing from leaked records, public documents and hundreds of interviews, it casts unprecedented light on the mechanics of corruption at the grandest scale, and reveals how banks and other Western institutions play a part in the blighting of countless lives.

The investigation centers on Isabel dos Santos, Africa’s wealthiest woman, who built a reputation on a false premise: that she made her fortune through business acumen, grit and entrepreneurial spirit. ICIJ’s reporting dismantles that claim.

For two decades, dos Santos exploited ties to Angola’s government, led by her autocrat father, to win lucrative stakes in every business with a whiff of profitability, from diamonds to oil to real estate. When the top job at the national oil company came open, she took that, too.

Stories of corruption in far off places are often told as if despotic governments are singularly to blame. But it takes a global village to loot a country, our investigation found.

Western accountants, lawyers and financial advisers helped dos Santos and her husband move hundreds of millions of dollars from Angola and into offshore accounts, where it was used to buy up fancy homes and stakes in legitimate businesses around the world. Acquisitions included an energy giant, a luxury jeweller with storefronts in New York and Paris, and a Portuguese lender that helped fund the couple’s ambitions even as other banks shied away.

Professional enablers also advised the couple on how to exploit weak regulations to shield assets from tax authorities and others. They turned a blind eye to red flags that experts say should have raised serious concern.

ICIJ’s investigation was sparked by a leak of more than 715,000 documents, including emails, and contracts. Journalists from ICIJ and 36 media organizations pursued leads and plumbed their significance. We traveled to Angola, interviewed hundreds of people, and pored over hundreds of pages of additional records provided by sources, including invoices from Sonangol, the Angolan state oil company.

We also solved mysteries. Hours after dos Santos was fired from her job at Sonangol, the company made a $38 million payment to a contractor the new regime couldn’t trace. The payment, we discovered, went to a bank account in Dubai controlled by a dos Santos friend. It was just one example identified by ICIJ of Angolan public money paid to offshore firms controlled by, or connected to, dos Santos.

While dos Santos and her enablers profited, ordinary Angolans battled sewage, eviction and hunger. In one case featured in our reporting, dos Santos pushed a redevelopment project that led to the forced evictions of thousands of poor Angolans from their beachside homes.

“There was nothing; no warning, no notice, nothing,” recalled Talitha Miguel, a schoolteacher. “It was as if it were a massacre.”

Additional Entry Links:
Explore: How to build a business empire

The Luanda Leaks