As It Happens

Angolan journalist vindicated as Luanda Leaks expose alleged corruption he first reported

As a trove of documents reveals the roots of an African billionaire's wealth, journalist Rafael Marquez de Morais says none of it is new. And he should know: he reported on it, when no one seemed to care.

'I had my life turned upside down by the corrupt officials I investigated,' says Rafael Marquez de Morais

Rafael Marquez de Morais is an investigative journalist in Angola, who spent years digging into the personal wealth of Isabel dos Santos. (Ampe Rogerio/AFP/Getty Images)


Isabel dos Santos' empire is crumbling — but Rafael Marquez de Morais says it should have fallen a long time ago. 

Dos Santos is the billionaire daughter of Angola's former president and the subject of the so-called Luanda Leaks — a recently-released trove of over 700,000 documents that show how she amassed her wealth through business dealings that often came at the expense of Angola's economy and citizens.

The revelations around Dos Santos are nothing new to De Morais. The Angolan investigative journalist has been digging into Dos Santos' wealth and exposing corruption within the government for years.

Since the leaks were released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the Angolan government has charged Dos Santos with embezzlement and money laundering.

In a statement released on Monday, Dos Santos said: "I refute the unfounded allegations and false affirmations and inform that I have taken steps towards initiating legal action against ICIJ and its partners."

As It Happens host Carol Off spoke to Marquez about Dos Santos and his efforts to expose her alleged corruption before the world took notice. Here is part of their conversation.

As an Angolan investigative journalist, you broke this story years ago. What's it like to see Isabel dos Santos exposed finally in this way?

On one hand, it's a vindication for all the years that I have been exposing her. On the other hand, it's sad that we in Africa continue to rely exclusively on the credibility of Western outlets and Western voices to address our own problems.

Isabel dos Santos is the daughter of Angola's former president José Eduardo dos Santos and the wealthiest woman in Africa, according to Forbes magazine. (Miguel Riopa/AFP/Getty Images)

When you did the story, you exposed this woman as having had this wealth by having taken it and broken a number of laws. What did you report?

I reported on how Isabel dos Santos amassed her wealth through presidential decrees — that the father would issue a presidential decree assigning her a particular stake in a state business or sovereign guarantees for loans that the state took to provide businesses for her.

And, on the other hand, I also exposed her — how she used the national oil company Sonangol as her own private bank. And after all that exposure, I was harassed. I went through hell because of the information I brought out. 

In 2013, in collaboration with the Forbes magazine, myself and the editor Kerry Dolan brought a big story on Isabel dos Santos and what happened. Weeks later, she bought the rights to publish Forbes in Portuguese. 

The very newspaper you had been working for in order to do the exposé.

She bought the rights to publish this media outlet in Portuguese by way of basically stopping Forbes of any further collaborations with me.

So the way the Angolan elite was awash in money enabled them to buy international recognition, to buy international respectability, to buy international public relations. This same international respectability, this credibility that they used to rob their own people — that has turned on them.

And that is the difference with Luanda Leaks. Essentially, it's the whole world that clapped Isabel dos Santos as the richest woman in Africa, as a savvy businesswoman, turning on her, when for many years, anyone who dared to defy her was seen as an activist, as an anti-government person, and so forth.

And you were ultimately jailed for the reporting you were doing. Is that right?

I was jailed for exposing her father as corrupt. But I suffered at the hands of these individuals. I had my life turned upside down by the corrupt officials I investigated and the country. And yet, I stood the ground because I believe as an Angolan citizen that my people deserve better and that it's my duty as a journalist to seek the truth.

These leaks that have emerged about her — about the holdings she had, about how she went about becoming the richest woman in Africa. Is the fact that her father is no longer president that's allowed for that?

Absolutely, because while her father was president, be it the West, be it China, were pitted against each other in the race for Angolan resources, particularly oil.

I remember going to many Western countries and having meetings with officials and being told, "Look, we're friends with President [José] Dos Santos and with his government. So don't come to bad mouth your own government."

And I said, "I'm not bad-mouthing anyone. But the levels of corruption in the country are unbearable, are unsustainable."

But no one would listen. Very few would listen because it was profitable for Western companies, mainly, that have benefited greatly from that plundering.

Angola is a resource-rich country and one of Africa's top oil producers. But De Morais says government corruption has left much of the population in poverty. (Ampe Rogerio/AFP/Getty Images)

And you've pointed out that Angola should be a country of wealth for everybody. It's the second biggest oil producer in all of Africa. It's a major producer of diamonds. And yet, you have a third of the population that lives in dire poverty. So what has it meant having this wealth transferred into the hands of family members of the president? What effect did that have over these years on the people of Angola?

Corruption in Angola killed — literally killed.

In 2015-2016, we had an outbreak of yellow fever that killed many, many, many Angolans for lack of basic medicine and basic health care. And in those years, what did Isabel dos Santos and others do?

They will take pictures with Hollywood stars, throw lavish parties at Cannes, travel to Hollywood — showcase what the money stolen from Angola could do in the glittery world, in the world with people like Paris Hilton, and so forth — when Angolans were dying.

What are the chances that she's actually going to be prosecuted and found guilty of any of these charges?

If justice takes its course, the chances of getting convicted are very high. But it's most likely that she will not set foot in the country to face the charges against her in the country, and that will mean a trial in absentia.

Written by John McGill and Jeanne Armstrong with files from Reuters. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong and Kate Swoger. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?