LUANDA (Reuters) - Angola has offered investors diamond exploration licenses that previously belonged to Isabel dos Santos, daughter of the former president, according to a video clip of a closed-door meeting with mining companies seen by Reuters.
During the meeting at a mining conference in Cape Town last month, president of state diamond company Endiama, José Manuel Ganga Júnior, said the licenses had expired and were now available for new exploration partners.
Isabel dos Santos is Africa’s richest woman with assets across multiple sectors in Angola and Portugal from jewelry to supermarkets. Her family has been a powerful force in Angola for four decades but her star has faded since her father, President José Eduardo dos Santos, stepped down last year.
His successor President João Lourenço promised to tackle family monopolies and make Angola more attractive to investors. He dismissed her as chair of state oil company Sonangol, Angola’s most important firm, in November.
The licenses for primary deposits mentioned in slides accompanying the presentation, a copy of which Reuters has also seen, were for Camafuca-Camazambo, Mulepe, Sangamina, Chiri, and Tchiegi. All are located in the north-eastern diamond producing provinces of Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul.
A source in the Angolan diamond industry told Reuters the Camafuca-Camazambo and Chiri licenses had previously been in the hands of Isabel dos Santos.
Representatives for Isabel dos Santos did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“It is true that these kimberlites (a geological formation of igneous rock in which diamonds are sometimes found) we presented to promote and offer for exploration were already granted as licenses in the past, many years ago,” Ganga Junior said in the video.
A spokesman at Endiama confirmed the video was authentic and that the licenses were offered to investors. The Ministry of Natural Resources directed questions to the state company.
“These licenses have expired ... At this time, we don’t have any commitment with any former owners of these projects,” Ganga Junior said.
Angola is one of the world’s top 5 diamond producers, but much of the territory remains under-explored due to 27 years of civil war and a closed, difficult business environment since fighting ended in 2002.
Lourenço took power in September and says he wants to shed Angola’s image as an opaque oil economy with rampant corruption. He wants to attract international investors and has made changes to wrest power from dos Santos, pushing out some of his key allies.
Russia’s Alrosa is the only major diamond company currently producing in Angola via its stake in the Catoca mine - one of the world’s largest.
“We are ready to start from zero to negotiate in the best conditions, the best possibilities for the good of Endiama, our country and potential shareholders,” Ganga Junior said.
“Apart from Endiama which has to be a partner by law, the rest is open.”
Editing by Ed Stoddard and Anna Willard