MADRID — A Spanish judge has ruled that the body of Angola’s longtime leader José Eduardo dos Santos may be returned to his home country in southern Africa.
The former president died in Barcelona, Spain, on July 8 at the age of 79, but his burial set off a family feud with political consequences after his daughter Welwitschia dos Santos formally accused the former first lady as well as dos Santos’ longtime private doctor of homicide.
Dos Santos stepped down in 2017 after 38 years in power, amid growing public protest, but remained a towering political figure in Angola.
After an autopsy showed that dos Santos had died of natural causes, Judge Francisco Javier Pauli Collado on Wednesday found in favor of his wife, Ana Paula dos Santos. The ruling allows her to repatriate her husband’s body to Angola as soon as Friday, said her lawyer, Josep Riba.
“There is no indication of anything illegal, of any crime,” he said. “All this was a ruse to delay the delivery of the body.”
Welwitschia dos Santos has appealed the decision in a bid to stop the repatriation, her lawyers said. She and some of her siblings were determined to bury their father in Spain, in a private funeral and at a discreet gravesite where they could visit.
The judge ruled that despite their claims, dos Santos did not clearly express his will to be buried in Spain. The former president had been living in self-imposed exile in Barcelona for three years after falling out with his former political comrades.
The Angolan government has backed dos Santos’ widow, dispatching a delegation of high-ranking officials to support her bid. A state funeral for the man who led Angola for decades, including during a civil war, could bolster a government about to face elections, political analysts said.
Dos Santos died the month before the general election Aug. 24. The Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, or MPLA, in power since independence in 1975, is trailing the opposition in its former strongholds, according to polls by the Mudei Civic Movement, a citizen-based election monitoring group. Dos Santos’ successor, João Lourenço, is seeking reelection. The party has faced criticism over corruption and mismanagement of the economy in Africa’s second-largest oil producer.
But dos Santos had fallen out with his old party, embittered after two of his children were caught up in corruption scandals. His son José Filomeno dos Santos was convicted of embezzling the state’s sovereign fund. His daughter Isabel dos Santos is accused of siphoning millions of dollars from the state oil company Sonangol, and cannot return to Angola without facing arrest. And Welwitschia dos Santos, a former member of parliament for the ruling party, fled Angola citing political persecution.
Isabel dos Santos testified in court on behalf of Welwitschia dos Santos, according to Riba, the lawyer, and the two have accused the party of using their father’s death for political gain.
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