Isabel dos Santos: Angolan billionaire hit with £580m asset freeze

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An Angolan billionaire who has been described as Africa’s richest woman has lost a High Court battle to stop her assets being frozen.

Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of a former president, is being sued by telecoms firm Unitel.

The Angolan company is seeking damages of $733m (£580m) arising from financial decisions taken by Ms Dos Santos during her time as a director of the firm.


Ms Dos Santos says the case is a political vendetta.

Critics of Ms Dos Santos have long claimed she used her position of influence in Angola to enrich herself at the expense of the state – allegations she has strongly refuted.

The BBC has reported on leaked documents alleging she made her fortune through corruption and exploiting resources in Angola during her involvement with some of the country’s largest companies.

Ms Dos Santos said at the time that the claim was “based on fake documents and false information, it is a coordinated political attack in coordination with the ‘Angolan Government'”.

Her father José Eduardo dos Santos ruled the south-western African country for 38 years until he stepped down in 2017, before he died last year.

He was succeeded by his hand-picked successor João Lourenço, under whom several of Mr Dos Santos’ relatives have been prosecuted on various charges, which they deny. His son Zenu was jailed for five years for fraud.

As of 2020, Ms Dos Santos was based in London.

Unitel had asked London’s High Court to grant a worldwide freezing order over her assets.

Ms Dos Santos and companies linked to her are already subject to a number of asset freezes around the world.

The case against Ms Dos Santos concerns loans made in 2012 and 2013 of around $400m from Unitel to another company, Unitel International Holdings (UIH).

UIH is incorporated in the Netherlands and is owned and controlled by Ms Dos Santos, according to court documents.

From early 2020, UIH stopped paying any interest on the loans, the High Court was told.

Unitel alleged that the loans were made at rates below commercial values and without any significant security. It alleges Ms Dos Santos procured the loans “ultimately, for her own personal benefit”.

Ms Dos Santos denies the allegations made by Unitel and says the court case is a political campaign against her brought about by the current Angolan government.

She says the loans to UIH were approved by Unitel’s board and shareholders and were made in good faith.

She said the freezing order “must be viewed in the light of political feuding in Angola” arising from her efforts to “root out corruption” during her time running the country’s state oil company.

According to court documents, Unitel is “ultimately in the effective control of the Angolan State” following changes to its ownership and management from 2020.

In a written ruling handed down by the High Court on 20 December, Mr Justice Bright granted a freezing order in favour of Unitel.

The court heard Ms Dos Santos’s assets are said to include property in the UK worth up to £33.5m ($42m) and $95m worth of property in Monaco and Dubai.

While the terms of the order will be decided at a later hearing, the judge warned Ms Dos Santos “this seems an obvious case for a worldwide freezing order” which goes beyond the High Court’s immediate jurisdiction.

Dos Santos has previously been described as Africa’s richest woman, with an estimated fortune of $2bn. She is no longer included on Forbes’ rankings of the world’s wealthiest people because her assets are under dispute in various territories.