31 December 2019. LISBON/JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – An Angolan court has ordered assets of Isabel dos Santos, daughter of the country’s former leader, to be frozen in the highest-profile move of an anti-corruption drive launched by President Joao Lourenço.
Since ending ex-President Jose Eduardo dos Santos’ nearly 40-year grip on power in 2017, Lourenço has been trying to reduce the influence of the former first family, recover lost assets and privatise state firms.
Africa’s wealthiest woman, Isabel dos Santos amassed a fortune widely estimated at more than $2 billion through stakes in Angolan companies including banks and telecoms firm Unitel, earning her the nickname “the Princess”.
She chaired state oil company Sonangol – the lynchpin of Angola’s flagging, oil-dependent economy – before being sacked by Lourenço months after he came to power.
A court order dated Dec. 23 which was seen by Reuters said the government believed Isabel dos Santos, her husband Sindika Dokolo and Mário Filipe Moreira Leite da Silva, chairman of Banco de Fomento Angola (BFA), had caused the state losses of more than $1 billion.
“The state through its companies (diamond marketing company) Sodiam and Sonangol transferred enormous quantities of foreign currency to companies abroad whose beneficiaries are the defendants, without receiving the agreed return,” the court said. “The defendants recognise the existence of the debt but allege that they do not have the means to pay.”
A Lisbon-based spokesman for Isabel dos Santos said the billionaire businesswoman had not yet issued an official statement on the court ruling.
Reuters was unable to reach Dokolo or da Silva, and BFA did not answer calls seeking comment.
Isabel dos Santos has previously denied wrongdoing during her father’s time in office.
She tweeted late on Monday: “I would like to leave a message of tranquillity and confidence to my teams … We will continue, every day, in every business, doing our best and fighting for what I believe in for Angola. The road is long, the truth will prevail. United we stand stronger.”
The asset freeze applies to personal bank accounts of dos Santos, Dokolo and da Silva in Angola and stakes they hold in Angolan firms including Unitel, BFA and ZAP MIDIA.
The order said the central bank would ensure that no funds leave the personal bank accounts of the three accused.
The boards of each company affected by the asset freeze must ensure that the stakes affected are not sold on and that no profits from the shares are transferred to the accused.
The court said Isabel dos Santos had hidden “wealth obtained at the cost of the state” by trying to transfer some of her businesses to Russia. Portuguese police had blocked a transfer of 10 million euros ($11 million) from one of her business partners to Russia, it said.