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Portugal seizes Isabel dos Santos’ bank accounts

Portugal is the latest to take action against Africa's richest woman, Isabel dos Santos, seizing dozens of her bank accounts.

Portugal has ordered the seizure of dozens of bank accounts belonging to Isabel dos Santos, the billionaire businesswoman currently under investigation for fraud in her native Angola.

Last week during a state visit by Germany’s Angela Merkel, Angolan President Joao Lourenco said his government was fighting to recover assets taken illegally from the country and had sought overseas assistance.

On Tuesday, Portugal acted on this appeal.

“The public prosecutor’s office requested the seizure of bank accounts as part of a request for international judicial cooperation by the Angolan authorities,” a spokeswoman for the Portuguese prosecutor’s office announced, according to local media reports.

Accounts linked to dos Santos’ husband, Congolese businessman and art dealer Sindika Dokolo, were also seized.

Dos Santos was at the center of Luanda Leaks, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalist’s investigation into how a corrupt elite siphoned billions of dollars from one of the world’s poorest countries.

Over the past few weeks, the beleaguered billionaire has sold significant assets in Portugal, including a majority stake in the publicly listed electrical engineering company, Efacec, and a controlling share in Eurobic, a bank under investigation by Portuguese regulators.

The businesswoman, who is believed to be living in London, retains significant shareholdings in other Portuguese companies and owns several properties there.

Following last month’s publication of Luanda Leaks, Angola charged the eldest daughter of former Angolan president José Eduardo dos Santos with embezzlement, alleging fraud during her tenure as head of the state oil giant, Sonangol.

Dos Santos was appointed head of Sonangol near the end of her father’s 38 years in power. Prosecutors are probing the transfer of tens of millions of dollars from Sonangol to a Dubai company controlled by one of her close associates on the day dos Santos was sacked as chief of the oil company.

Aside from these criminal charges, Angola has also initiated a civil action to recover an estimated $1.1 billion it claims dos Santos and her associates stole from state coffers.

Angola froze her bank accounts in that country a few days prior to the publication of Luanda Leaks, following detailed questions from ICIJ.

The Luanda Leaks investigation unveiled a web of more than 400 companies and subsidiaries in 41 countries linked to dos Santos or her husband, Sindika Dokolo, including 94 in secrecy jurisdictions such as Malta, Mauritius and Hong Kong.

It also detailed how hundreds of millions of dollars in loans and contracts were directed to dos Santos’ companies.

She has denied any wrongdoing, labelling the investigation a government-contrived  witch hunt” designed to destroy her reputation and deflect from Angola’s current economic problems.

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