Dutch launch criminal probe, freeze assets of Isabel dos Santos-linked firm

Prosecutors say they are looking into a controversial loan agreement detailed by ICIJ in Luanda Leaks.

Dutch prosecutors have begun a criminal investigation into how a company owned by Sindika Dokolo, the husband of billionaire Angolan businesswoman Isabel dos Santos, managed to acquire a lucrative shareholding in the Portuguese oil and gas firm, Galp.

The Public Prosecution Service has also frozen the assets of the company, Exem Energy BV pending the outcome of the probe, which it says was prompted in part by Luanda Leaks,  an investigation led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists into how dos Santos made her fortune.

Luanda Leaks details how in 2006 Angola’s state oil giant, Sonangol, bankrolled Exem’s purchase of its Galp shareholding for $99 million, agreeing an up-front payment of just $15 million with the rest to be repaid at a later date.

Sonangol has never explained why it agreed to sell the stake to a company owned by the then-president’s son-in-law. Although the shares are now trading at around half of their January value, the stake is still worth around $400 million.

Dokolo told ICIJ that the outstanding loan amount was repaid in full to Sonangol in 2017, when his wife was in charge of the company.

Only months after being fired following her father’s ousting as Angola’s president in 2017, dos Santos’ successor at Sonangol had rejected the deal on the basis that payment in Angolan currency, rather than euros, was a breach of contract.

The Angolan state claims there is a balance of $75 million outstanding and is seeking to recover it through the Enterprise Chamber corporate appeal court in Amsterdam. The Netherlands was a key conduit for dos Santos’ transfer of wealth from Angola.

On Wednesday, a Dutch Public Prosecution Service spokesperson told ICIJ partner Karlijn Kuijpers, an investigative journalist who collaborated on Luanda Leaks, that it was focusing on the Sonangol share deal.

“We are investigating the acquisition of these shares. The suspicion is that the shares were acquired by fraud or embezzlement of the Angolan state. The company is a suspect in a criminal investigation by the Fiscal Intelligence and Investigation Service led by the Functional Public Prosecutor’s Office.”

The action mirrors similar orders on dos Santos’ corporate assets in Portugal and Angola, where the freezing orders also extend to personal wealth, including bank accounts. Dos Santos has consistently denied wrongdoing, and has instead claimed to be the target of a “witch hunt.”

Exem Energy BV confirmed the investigation, which was first reported last Friday by the Dutch newspaper, de Volkskrant.

The company’s London-based public relations agency, Powerscourt, which also represents dos Santos, said it welcomed “the opportunity to make the facts known and to clarify various falsehoods and unfounded allegations.”

“Exem paid 11.5 million euros at the signing of the contract and 64 million euros plus interest, was paid in October 2017 in [Angolan] kwanzas at the exchange rate at the time. As a result, Exem no longer owed anything to Sonangol,” it said in a statement to ICIJ.

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