The United States sanctioned Angolan billionaire Isabel dos Santos on Wednesday for her involvement in significant corruption, marking the first public US response to years of accusations of wrongdoing. Dos Santos' business empire was the subject of Luanda Leaks, a global exposé published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in 2020.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken cited dos Santos, the daughter of Angola's former longtime autocratic president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, "for her involvement in significant corruption by misappropriating public funds for her personal benefit," according to a press release, ICIJ reports.
Under the designation, which was released on International Anti-Corruption Day, dos Santos and her immediate family are now barred from entering the United States.
"These sanctions will give hope to many Angolans and preempt Angolan officials from using public funds for their own benefit while many still live in extreme poverty, without access to clean water, education and healthcare services," said Florindo Chivucute, executive director of Washington D.C. based nonprofit, Friends of Angola, which has advocated for US measures against the billionaire.
Dos Santos ran Angola's state-owned oil company from 2016 to 2017. She has previously denied wrongdoing, labeling accusations against her a "witch hunt.
The State Department's announcement comes almost two years after ICIJ and a team of 120 journalists from 36 countries revealed how two decades of corrupt deals helped turn dos Santos into Africa's wealthiest woman while leaving Angola one of the world's poorest countries.
The Luanda Leaks investigation was based on more than 715,000 documents that provide a window into the inner workings of dos Santos' business empire. The Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa, an organization based in Paris, France, obtained the files and shared them with ICIJ.
After the investigation, authorities in Angola, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal announced a suite of lawsuits and investigations into dos Santos and her companies, and many of her business ventures have been largely dismantled.
Dos Santos' business dealings also featured in ICIJ's FinCEN Files and Pandora Papers investigations. She is believed to currently be living in the United Arab Emirates.
Under today's announcement, the State Department also imposed visa and entry bans on officials from Ukraine, Guatemala, El Salvador, Liberia, Nicaragua, Colombia and two other high-profile Angolans.
Referring to a suite of measures announced today, Blinken said, "these complementary actions promote accountability for corrupt actors across the globe to disrupt and deter those who would seek to act with impunity, disregard international standards, and undermine democracy and rule of law."