Banana Republic, American-Style: Angola Is Here

Kevin D. Williamson

Isabel dos Santos is Africa’s wealthiest woman. She almost certainly got that way through corrupt means.

Her father, José Eduardo dos Santos, ruled Angola from 1979 until 2017, and she made her money mostly from companies that were doing business with her father’s government. Her case has recently been of intense interest to the American press thanks to the work of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, and it is a difficult story to resist: Until recently, she was an ornament of the glamour mob, swanning from Davos to Cannes while spending millions of dollars at European fashion houses, nearly $1 million at Dolce & Gabbana alone. Some husbands buy their wives a piece of jewelry — hers bought a piece of De Grisogono, the Swiss jeweler, exploiting his connection to the Angolan state-run diamond company.

Today, Isabel dos Santo is charged with embezzlement, among other crimes, but nonetheless says she is considering a run for the presidency of a country in which she does not currently reside, having fled first to Portugal before becoming a resident of the United Arab Emirates.

On her last day on the job as head of Sonagol, Angola’s state-run oil company (state-run oil companies are not the root of all evil — but maybe about half), she approved invoices for a few million dollars from a Dubai-based consultancy owned by a friend and business partner. But that is chickenfeed — she is a billionaire, the first African woman to become one. Her career is familiar enough: now acquiring assets through sweetheart government deals, now engaged in profitable partnership with overseas companies (mostly European, in her case) that have an interest in ensuring friendly treatment by her father’s government. A great deal of what she was engaged in was probably entirely legal, irrespective of how corrupt it might have been. And she had Boston Consulting, PwC, and McKinsey in her corner, among others. Her American advisers did not seem especially interested in why they were being paid through a Maltese shell company.

Dos Santos says the investigation is a dirty trick undertaken by political rivals. It may be. That doesn’t mean she didn’t do what she is accused of doing.

Because this is the banana-republic era of American politics, the news from Angola hardly sounds foreign at all. With the impeachment drama in full swing and Donald Trump’s enemies wailing about the impropriety of his actions vis-à-vis Ukraine, it is strange that so many in Washington are so studiously not talking about Hunter Biden, or indeed about other Bidens and other members of politically connected families who have grown wealthy through questionable means. The question of whether Donald Trump was trying to pull off a dirty trick against Joe Biden is separate from the question of whether Joe Biden and his family were complicit in corrupt practices abroad.

Peter Schweizer, who specializes in Washington self-dealing and has a new book out on the subject, shares some interesting tidbits in the New York Post. Example: In 2010, the president of HillStone International, a subsidiary of a large construction firm, visited the White House and met with a member of the vice president’s staff. A couple of weeks later, it hired the vice president’s brother, James, in a senior position. Schweizer writes:

James Biden was joining HillStone just as the firm was starting negotiations to win a massive contract in war-torn Iraq. Six months later, the firm announced a contract to build 100,000 homes. It was part of a $35 billion, 500,000-unit project deal won by TRAC Development, a South Korean company. HillStone also received a $22 million US federal government contract to manage a construction project for the State Department.

James Biden had about as much background in construction management as Hunter Biden did in Ukrainian natural-gas developments. But he had a brother in the White House, and that counts for something, surely. Is this obviously corrupt? It is not obviously illegal, but that is a distinct question. Schweizer finds similar situations involving no fewer than five members of the Biden family: James and Frank, his brothers; Hunter, his son; Howard, his son-in-law, and Valerie, his sister. None has been charged with any crime. None is likely to be charged with any crime.

Whether that makes you feel better about Joe Biden or worse about the country should be more than a matter of partisanship.

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