Angola vs. Isabel dos Santos: The chess match continues

By Estelle Maussion
Posted on Friday, 30 December 2022 11:03

Isabel dos Santos (photo: @isabelaangola)

The conflict between the Isabel Dos Santos and the Lourenço presidency continues, as the government freezes her assets for a second time.

There are times when politics is a game of chess, not checkers.

One month after businesswoman Isabel dos Santos carried out an extensive public relations campaign proclaiming her innocence, the Angolan authorities responded with the additional freezing of some of her assets.

The court decision, coming down from the Tribunal da Relacao (Supreme Court), has targeted a significant percentage of the former Angolan First Daughter’s associates in seven telecommunications companies, as well as a total of $1bn in liquid bank account possessions.

Unfair dividends

Dated 19 December, the decision, made public by Portuguese news agency Lusa, was also transmitted to Angolan public television, a practice which was not insignificant, as the administration of President João Lourenço and Isabel dos Santos have traded barbs since the latter’s father José Eduardo departed from the presidency in 2017.

The former president’s successor, despite belonging to the same Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA) party, has caused some headaches for the dos Santos family.

Upon taking power, the Lourenço administration sought to follow through on a key campaign promise of bringing an end to corruption, initiating a series of procedures and legal complaints against the country’s elites, including those to the former president’s inner circle like Isabel dos Santos.

In a 28-page document, the Supreme Court exposed a series of facts associated with the woman nicknamed The Princess, including circumstances wherein she took advantage of her position as Unitel shareholder (via Vidatel) and President of the Board of Directors between 2013 and 2019 to receive dividends initially due to the Angolan government, then using them to finance her personal life.

The Princess, who left Angola in 2018 and continues to denounce what she calls political persecution, strongly contests the fraud, influence peddling, and money laundering accusations being brought against her, making it a point to cite her job-creating business investments within the country as well as her desire to modernise the national oil company, Sonangol, during her time running the company.

A royal media offensive

Weakened since the controversial Luanda Leaks in early 2020, dos Santos, crowned the first African billionaire according to Forbes in 2013, lost her husband Sindika Dokolo to a diving accident in Dubai in 2020, followed by her father, former President dos Santos, who passed away in July 2022 in Barcelona, Spain.

After remaining away from the spotlight for a while, the former Unitel boss, currently mobilising a legal team for her defence strategy, returned to the airwaves at the end of November. In two interviews, conducted with Deutsche Welle (DW) and CNN Portugal/TVI respectively, dos Santos expressly denied any wrongdoing and disputed reports of an international arrest warrant against her, despite the latter being announced by Angolan authorities.

December’s latest asset freeze is the second of its kind targeting the younger dos Santos, with the first coming at the end of 2019 by the Procurador-Geral da República (Attorney General), followed by a similar decision taken by the Portuguese courts shortly thereafter.

Slow justice

“Today, as in 2019, it seems that there have only been preventive seizures of various goods, in effect simply being provisional decisions with the knowledge that there exists no formal criminal charge brought down from Angolan authorities,” explains Rui Verde, Professor of Law and a specialist in Angolan affairs.

As it concerns the freezing of dos Santos’ assets, along with the arrest warrant’s issuance, Professor Verde emphasises the relative slowness of Angolan authorities, as well as certain technical flaws noted in the files.

These flaws risk complicating things for Luanda and could play into dos Santos’s hands.

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