How ‘princess’ of Angola misplaced her oil crown

LUANDA/LONDON (Reuters) – On Oct. 6, with the mud nonetheless selecting Angola’s first change of energy in 38 years, new President João Lourenço sat down with worldwide oil majors on the presidential palace in Luanda.

Isabel dos Santos, Chairwoman of Sonangol, speaks throughout a Reuters Newsmaker occasion in London, Britain, October 18, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville

The highest executives in Angola of Chevron (CVX.N), Complete (TOTF.PA), BP (BP.L), Eni (ENI.MI) and Exxon (XOM.N) mentioned the oil sector was being devastated by delays in venture approvals at Sonangol and a backlog of funds owed by the state oil firm, based on 4 oil trade sources with information of the assembly.

They warned Lourenço that Angola’s manufacturing would decline from 2019 except swift motion was taken to deal with issues on the agency, which was headed by Isabel dos Santos, daughter of his presidential predecessor, the sources mentioned. They declined to be named as a result of the discussions had been confidential.

Six weeks later the president fired dos Santos, Africa’s richest girl who’s nicknamed the “princess” in Angola.

The oil majors all declined to touch upon the assembly. Lourenço’s workplace and Sonangol didn’t reply to requests for remark.

It was a extremely uncommon gathering; overseas oil corporations function practically all of Angola’s manufacturing and maintain big sway, however assembly the president as a united group was nearly unparalleled.

The character of the discussions has not been beforehand reported. The talks, and subsequent occasions main as much as dos Santos’ dismissal, make clear the explanations behind her ouster – a choice by no means formally defined.

They provide new perception into the present state of a very powerful firm in Angola, which depends on oil for a 3rd of its financial output and over 95 % of exports, and the large challenges going through the brand new administration of the debt-laden agency.

The dismissal additionally factors to the waning energy of the dos Santos household, which has dominated Angolan politics and enterprise for many years. Isabel dos Santos’ father José Eduardo had dominated the nation since 1979, amassing wealth for his family who personal corporations in nearly each a part of the economic system.


Billionaire dos Santos, who had been Sonangol chair since June 2016, has mentioned she was within the strategy of restructuring to root out waste and corruption at an organization that was struggling even earlier than oil costs plunged in mid-2014.

Her representatives declined to remark for this story, and as an alternative pointed Reuters to 2 statements, issued within the days after her exit, when she outlined her achievements together with lowering debt to $7 billion from $13 billion, elevating annual income to $15.6 billion from $14.eight billion and reducing prices.

In her departing speech to workers, she mentioned the corporate had been “practically bankrupt” when she took over, devastated by the oil-price collapse. “Recollections are brief,” she added.

Nevertheless, based on interviews with 10 sources, together with the 4 oil trade sources in addition to officers from Sonangol and the federal government, Lourenço was pissed off with the gradual tempo of change on the firm.

On Oct. 13, per week after assembly the oil majors and 17 days after taking workplace, the president ordered authorities ministers, Sonangol and worldwide oil corporations to type a 30-day working group to evaluate the state of the trade.

The group’s conferences, lots of them led by new Secretary of State for Oil Carlos Saturnino, had been tense, the sources mentioned. Saturnino, an oil trade veteran, had been fired by dos Santos from his position as head of manufacturing and exploration at Sonangol final 12 months when she accused him of gross mismanagement.

Despite the fact that dos Santos had launched a turnaround plan, big hold-ups within the approval of initiatives had been strangling the oil sector, based on the sources. Her board had carried out a system for checking initiatives submitted by overseas oil corporations which in follow exacerbated the issue, they mentioned.

She had additionally created a gulf between her board and the remainder of the corporate by surrounding herself with overseas consultants, mentioned the individuals, who declined to be named because of the confidential nature of the trade evaluate and associated discussions.

The working group concluded there was “a close to paralysis” at Sonangol, based on a authorities supply.

Vehicles are seen infront of the pinnacle workplace of Angola’s state oil firm Sonangol within the capital Luanda, Angola. June 7,2016. REUTERS/Ed Cropley


Because the group assessed the state of the trade, Lourenço met with Sonangol’s greatest lenders – together with the Financial institution of China, Customary Financial institution and Customary Chartered – to grasp Sonangol’s monetary scenario and safe decrease lending charges, based on a supply acquainted with the talks.

“Lourenço realised Sonangol wants cash quick,” mentioned the supply, including that the corporate had been searching for to restructure some funds.

Customary Financial institution declined to remark, citing consumer confidentiality, whereas Customary Chartered and Financial institution of China didn’t reply to requests for remark.

Sonangol’s direct debt to Chinese language banks and lending consortia together with Chinese language banks stood at $three.eight billion on the finish of 2016, based on the corporate’s annual report.

Oil trade sources advised Reuters this debt now stood at about $three billion, plus one other $three billion to majors, contractors and merchants. Of that, practically $1 billion is owed to buying and selling corporations Trafigura and Vitol beneath loans assured by oil or product exports, based on a supply near Sonangol.

The federal government itself additionally final 12 months took out an additional $6.9 billion mortgage from the China Growth Financial institution that it lent to Sonangol, $three.eight billion of which the agency used to refinance debt, based on an Worldwide Financial Fund report.

Supporters of dos Santos, who’re acquainted with her work at Sonangol, mentioned the money owed dated again to earlier than her tenure. They mentioned the corporate was now in higher monetary state. The gradual tempo of restructuring, they are saying, was because of the scale of the job and restraints imposed by the state on promoting property.

Her dismissal, based on them, was purely political and a part of a marketing campaign by the president towards her household.


With consensus in authorities constructing quick towards dos Santos, she responded with a attraction offensive.

In London, she met CEOs of main oil corporations at an trade convention. On Oct. 18, she did a uncommon reside interview on the Reuters workplace within the metropolis’s Canary Wharf monetary district.

Within the Reuters interview, she described her relationship with the brand new president as one among “full alignment”. However she gave a touch that her days at Sonangol could also be numbered, when requested if she would keep to see by means of the transformation of the agency.

“As soon as the foundations have been laid and are proper, it doesn’t matter who steps in so long as the plan is sweet,” mentioned dos Santos, who has stakes in companies from telecoms to diamonds.

The attraction offensive was too little, too late.

On Nov. 15, dos Santos and most of her board had been sacked. She was changed by the person that had develop into her nemesis: Saturnino.

Foundations however, the brand new administration faces the duties of getting initiatives transferring once more, repaying billions of owed to grease majors, contractors and merchants, and servicing billions extra of debt owed to Chinese language banks.

An government at Sonangol mentioned a large spherical of lay-offs had been delayed till after the election and the duty would additionally now most definitely fall to the brand new workforce.

Lourenço, nonetheless, appeared assured of Sonangol’s potential when he attended the board’s inauguration on Oct. 16, describing the corporate as a “golden goose”.

“Take excellent care of her,” he mentioned.

Writing by Stephen Eisenhammer; Enhancing by Pravin Char

Our Requirements:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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