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Isabel dos Santos blames asset freeze for Lisbon retreat and failure to pay staff

The Angolan billionaire has closed down her business offices in Portugal and fired dozens of staff after failing to pay wages, rent and bills for months.

Angolan billionaire Isabel dos Santos has permanently closed the offices of her main businesses in the Portuguese capital Lisbon, blaming asset freezes for her companies’ retreat and the job losses caused by it.

A dos Santos spokesperson confirmed to local media the closure of the offices on the city’s plush Avenida da Liberdade and failure to pay staff, rent and other bills over recent months.

Her spokesperson did not name the companies affected, but the building hosted Fidequity, a management services company that played a central role in her business empire, and Santoro Finance and Santoro Financial Holdings, which held key stakes in various investments.

“After 15 years working in Portugal, we can confirm that we have closed our offices in Lisbon and, against our will, dozens of Portuguese staff were fired, a situation that we are very sorry for,”  the spokesperson told Correio da Manhã, a daily.

“We have Portuguese employees who have not received a salary in four months.”

It isn’t clear whether her businesses were shut down entirely or whether her activities were moved elsewhere.

Dos Santos and her lawyers were not available for comment.

Her vast business empire came under scrutiny in recent months after the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists-led Luanda Leaks investigation documented how the billionaire amassed a fortune during her father’s three-decades long presidency.

In January, Angolan prosecutors charged the businesswoman, her husband and some of their associates with fraud and embezzlement, after freezing their assets and claiming they owe more than $1 billion to the state.

Mario Leite da Silva, who ran all the Lisbon-based firms that recently closed, was named as a co-suspect.

Silva and other Fidequity representatives could not be reached for comment.

In March, Portugal’s highest court ordered the seizure of several dos Santos properties and stakes in several companies.

A lower court had already frozen her bank accounts at the request of the Angolan authorities.

The office closures are the latest events to keep the eldest daughter of former long-time Angolan ruler Jose Eduardo dos Santos in the public eye.

Since Portugal and Angola froze dos Santos’ bank accounts, her Angolan supermarket chain has not been able to pay international suppliers and other bills, Contidis, the parent company, said in a statement.

Contidis said its current situation is “particularly aggravated” by the fact that the company “is not able to count on the support of its shareholders, after the Luanda court ordered to freeze shareholders’ bank accounts as well as access to dividends and to funds that could serve to support Candando, its operation and obligations towards its suppliers, service providers, rents and banks.”

Africa’s richest woman did receive some rare good news this week when a court overturned a previous decision that would have precluded her vote via teleconference at the annual meeting of NOS, the biggest media company in Portugal.

Through holding companies, dos Santos owns 26% of NOS, which is expected to announce dividends of around $160 million.

However, it is unclear whether the courts will allow dos Santos to access any dividend payments.

Another company associated with dos Santos and her husband, the Swiss jewelry retailer de Grisogono, filed for bankruptcy at the end of January.

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