January 16, 2020 / 10:21 AM / 9 days ago

UPDATE 1-Angola's dos Santos moots presidency run despite charges

(Adds political background)

By Victoria Waldersee

LISBON, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Africa’s richest woman and Angola’s ex-first daughter Isabel dos Santos expressed interest on Thursday in running for the presidency despite an asset freeze and accusations of diverting more than a billion dollars of state money.

It was the first time the daughter of former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who ran Angola for 38 years until Joao Lourenco took the helm in 2017, has mooted entering politics.

Asked in an interview with Portuguese TV channel RTP whether she would be interested in the role of president, which is next up in 2022, dos Santos said: “It’s possible”.

Lourenco has cracked down on the role of his predecessor’s children, firing dos Santos from her job chairing oil firm Sonangol and her brother from the sovereign wealth fund.

The 46-year-old businesswoman nicknamed “The Princess” at home is estimated by Forbes magazine to be worth more than $2 billion, while two thirds of her compatriots live on less than $2 a day, according to the World Bank.

In the past, she has consistently identified herself as an entrepreneur, not a politician.

Dos Santos, her husband Sindika Dokolo and associate Mario Leite da Silva were subject to an asset freeze on Dec. 31 after accusations of steering more than $1 billion from Sonangol and official diamond trader Sodiam to firms where they held stakes.

She denies the allegations as a “witch hunt” forming part of an attempt to erase her father’s legacy and distract from failures under the new government.

In the RTP interview, she framed the accusations not just as an attack on her family but as a campaign against future candidates for office.

“We cannot use corruption, or the supposed fight against corruption, in a selective way to neutralise who we think could be future political candidates,” she said.

“It’s about the fight for power.”

Internal leadership elections for the ruling MPLA party, from which Lourenco and the dos Santos family hail, are set for 2021. Dos Santos told Reuters in an interview last week that economic doldrums mean a candidate from the rival UNITA party stands a real chance of winning the national poll in 2022.

Dos Santos, who lives abroad, divides opinion in Angola.

Supporters see her as an inspiring entrepreneur, while detractors say she embodies African corruption, with her fortune and Instagram-published jet-setting offensive to the poor.

Dos Santos holds significant stakes in several important Portuguese firms, including in Eurobic bank, telecoms company NOS, engineering company Efacec, and oil and gas company Galp Energia. (Reporting by Victoria Waldersee; Editing by Noah Browning and Andrew Cawthorne)

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