Angolan Ex-President Dos Santos Returns After Two Years in Exile

Angola’s former President, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, returned home on Tuesday after almost three years in self-imposed exile following the new leader’s crackdown on his family’s multi-billion dollar business interests. 

Dos Santos, who ruled Africa’s second-biggest oil producer from 1979 to 2017, landed in Luanda at about 11 a.m. local time, state-news agency Angop reported on Tuesday. The 79-year-old’s return may suggest there is an agreement with President Joao Lourenco, who began targeting his predecessor’s children almost immediately after coming to power in 2017. 

“I believe this is a sign that the two may come to some sort of understanding,” said Antonio Estote, an independent economist and professor at the Universidade Lusiada de Angola. “It’s a political move ahead of the ruling MPLA party’s congress in December.”

Dos Santos has been living in Barcelona for the past three years and has never been formally accused of any crime in Angola. His return takes place as the government struggles to jump-start an economy that has been mired in recession for the past five years and is scheduled to hold presidential elections next year. 

The truce may help keep the ruling party united and boost Lourenco’s chance of re-election. 

Frozen Assets

Within months of coming to power in 2017, Lourenco fired dos Santos’ eldest daughter, Isabel, as chairwoman of state-owned oil company Sonangol. Two years later, Angolan authorities froze her assets in Angola and abroad. Isabel, who has been living in Dubai, said in an interview in April that the freezing order was destroying her businesses.

Lourenco, a former defense minister in dos Santos’ government, has said the move against Isabel dos Santos is part of an anti-corruption campaign aimed at recovering billions of dollars that were illegally transferred abroad. His administration estimates that more than $24 billion was looted during dos Santos’s 38-rule, a period in which the International Monetary Fund says the state didn’t properly record its oil revenue.

Prior to the freeze order, Isabel was worth about $2.4 billion, making her Africa’s wealthiest woman, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Her half-brother, Jose Filomeno dos Santos, was sentenced to five years in prison in August last year after being found guilty of embezzlement and fraud -- a ruling he’s appealing.

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