LUANDA LEAKS

Angola asks Dutch court to seize Isabel dos Santos-linked stake in energy firm

The acquisition was bankrolled by state oil company Sonangol, whose lawyers now allege that the deal enriched Angola’s former ruling family at the expense of the country.

Angola has asked a Dutch court to seize on its behalf a stake in an energy company linked to billionaire businesswoman Isabel dos Santos, according to a legal action first reported by Reuters.

In 2006, Exem Energy BV, a company controlled by dos Santos’s late husband, Sindika Dokolo, obtained a 6% indirect stake in Portuguese energy firm Galp thanks to a deal with Sonangol, Angola’s state oil company.

As a result of the deal, dos Santos had “significant influence” in Galp, according to a confidential report included in leaked documents obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The finding was part of Luanda Leaks, a 2020 investigation by ICIJ into the fortunes of the eldest daughter of Angola’s former president José Eduardo dos Santos and how decades of insider deals  made her one of the world’s richest women.

Now, Sonangol lawyers allege that the acquisition of the Galp stake ー currently valued at about $500 million ー made no business sense for Angola and led to the ruling family’s personal enrichment at the expense of the country, one of the world’s poorest, Reuters reported.

“It’s all corruption,” Sonangol’s legal counsel Emmanuel Gaillard told Reuters. “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.

Isabel dos Santos and her lawyers didn’t respond to a request for comment by ICIJ.

In an interview with BBC Africa last year, dos Santos said the transaction was “perfectly legal,” and that the deal benefited the state oil company.

“There’s absolutely no wrongdoing in any of those transactions,” she said.

Dos Santos’ husband Dokolo died in a scuba-diving accident last October.

ICIJ and 36 media partners, including the Portuguese newspaper Espresso, showed how Sonangol had bankrolled the purchase of Dokolo’s company’s shareholding in Galp for $99 million, agreeing to an upfront payment of just $15 million with the remainder due by December 2017.

In 2017, after her father’s government put her in charge of Sonangol, dos Santos agreed to the debt repayment in Angolan currency. But in 2018, months after her father was removed from power and she was fired as chair, her successor at Sonangol returned the money, arguing that the debt should have been settled in euros.

Last September, a Dutch court agreed to freeze the assets of Exem Energy, one of the firms controlled by dos Santos’ late husband which partnered with Sonangol, and confiscated future dividend payments to the company, pending the outcome of the investigation.

The bid on the Galp stake is part of an ongoing dispute and is due to be heard in the Amsterdam court of appeal in May.

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