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Beleaguered billionaire dos Santos quits Unitel board

Isabel dos Santos has stepped down from the board of Angola's mobile phone operator Unitel, citing "a climate of permanent conflict" among the company’s directors.

Billionaire businesswoman Isabel dos Santos has stepped down from the board of Angola’s flagship mobile phone operator Unitel, citing “a climate of permanent conflict” among the company’s directors.

Dos Santos told Portuguese news agency Lusa, in a statement on Tuesday that it seemed “counterproductive and irresponsible” to allow such a situation to continue.

“After 20 years dedicated to the creation, development and success of Unitel, I chose to leave the position of member of the company’s board of directors,” she said.

The eldest daughter of Angola’s former long-time president José Eduardo dos Santos has held a 25% stake in Angola’s biggest private company since her father awarded her company a lucrative operating license in 1999.

The veteran ruler, who was forced to step down in 2017 and has since gone into self-imposed exile in Spain, further cemented his grip on the company by awarding similar stakes to a key political ally and to the state oil giant, Sonangol, which he controlled. Since its foundation, Unitel has cornered around 80% of the market.

His daughter’s resignation is the latest in a series of blows to the putative dos Santos dynasty. Since January, her sprawling business empire has come under global scrutiny after the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists-led Luanda Leaks investigation documented how she amassed a fortune during her father’s 38 years in power.

Isabel dos Santos’ critics have described Unitel as a ‘piggy bank’.  In Luanda Leaks, ICIJ calculated that between 2006 and 2015, the company paid out more than $5 billion in dividends to shareholders.

Her various corporate and financial assets, including dividends, remain frozen in both Angola and Portugal. The Angolan government,  which sacked her as head of Sonangol shortly after it took power, has demanded her return from abroad to face fraud charges. Angola is also seeking to recover more than $1 billion it claims she siphoned from the country.

Dos Santos has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, claiming that the allegations are politically motivated.  She says she will not return to Angola, citing safety concerns.

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