Angola’s government has formally asked a Dutch court to hand over a $500 million stake in the Portuguese oil company Galp linked to Isabel Dos Santos, the daughter of ex-president Jose Eduardo dos Santos.
As part of the request, Angola says that top officials of the former regime took advantage of high oil prices in the last decade to spin a global web of business deals that led to their personal enrichment at the country’s expense.
The southern African country is also seeking to recover assets it says were siphoned off, as it battles the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing foreign debt.
The government has turned its prime focus on Isabel, a business tycoon who became Africa’s richest woman. She briefly ran state oil company Sonangol from 2016 until 2017, when her father’s 40-year rule ended.
Isabel has denied any connection to the holding company at the center of the case, Exem, which she says was owned by her late husband. She also rejects charges of wrongdoing and has called out the government for carrying out a “political witch hunt.”
The legal claim by Sonangol is due to be heard in the last week of May in the Amsterdam court of appeal, the state owned company’s lawyer Emmanuel Gaillard of law firm Shearman & Sterling said.
It will argue that Exem’s stake was acquired through embezzlement and money laundering.
“It’s all corruption … you (Exem) owe us the shares, the indirect participation in Galp, because it’s theft. It’s illegal, therefore you have to pay it back,” Gaillard said. HOLDING COMPANIES
Sonangol’s lawyers say the sale by Sonangol of part of its stake in Esperaza to Exem made no business sense for Angola and was made to enrich the former first family.
Under President Dos Santos, Sonangol sold a 40% stake in anoffshore holding company, Esperaza, to another holding company -Exem – owned by Isabel’s husband Sindika Dokolo, a Congolese businessman who died in a diving accident last year.
Esperaza, in which Sonangol retained a 60% stake, in turn partnered with the business empire of Portugal’s Amorim family to form yet another holding company, Amorim Energia, which is the largest shareholder in Portuguese oil company Galp Energia with a 33.3% stake.
The value of holding company Exem’s indirect stake in Galp fluctuates with oil prices and is currently worth about $500 million. According to sources well versed with the matter, its main interlocutor in the joint stake was not Exem but Sonangol, calling their partnership with the state firm “good and close”. “(The case) does not affect these relations, it does not change anything”, the source added.
The dispute, which is being heard in Amsterdam after both sides agreed on arbitration, already resulted in a ruling last September that removed Exem’s representative from Esperaza’s board and put its stake under the control of a court-appointed trustee.