Court says Africa’s former richest woman Isabel dos Santos diverted millions

A Dutch court has ruled that Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of Angola’s late former president, illegally diverted 52 million euros from the southwestern African nation’s state oil company.

Dos Santos funnelled the cash into a firm she owned with her husband, said the finding by the Amsterdam-based Enterprise Chamber, which was dated June 15 but made public on Thursday.

It is the latest in a series of judgements against dos Santos, once Africa’s richest woman.

Dos Santos is accused of syphoning billions of dollars from state companies during her father Jose Eduardo dos Santos’ nearly 40-year rule. Dos Santos senior died last year in July.

“Numerous (legal) persons have cooperated in this disgraceful state of affairs, which led to… (dos Santos) fraudulently obtaining 52.6 million euros in resources,” a court-appointed investigator said in the complex judgement.

Dos Santos diverted the money through a dividend payment, said the Enterprise Chamber, a special part of Amsterdam’s appeals court that deals with corporate matters.

“The dividend payment forms part of a pattern of action,” by Exem Energy BV, a company which the justices ruled was owned by dos Santos and her late husband and which they said aimed at having dos Santos benefit “on a large scale at the expense of Sonangol.”

Dos Santos, 50, had consistently denied any wrongdoing and denounced all accusations as a politically motivated witch hunt.

Last year she said a move by Angolan public prosecutor Helder Pitta Gros to file an international arrest warrant against her amounted to “political persecution” directed at her by Angola’s incumbent President Joao Lourenco.

– ‘Deliberately backdated’ –
The latest case against Angola’s embattled ex-first daughter springs from an investigation ordered by the Dutch court in 2020 into the dealings of the Netherlands-based offshore company Esperaza Holdings BV.

In 2006, Exem allegedly illegally obtained a 40 percent share in Esperaza, while Sonangol, Angola’s oil company, retained a 60 percent majority stake.

Dos Santos however gave no explanation for the uncommercial terms of this deal, other than being the daughter of the former president, the court said.

Justices said dos Santos then used an agreement in the 2006 deal to justify a 52.6-million-euro dividend payout from Esperaza to Exem in mid-November 2017 — when dos Santos got wind that she may be axed as chairwoman of Sonangol’s board.

The payout needed Sonangol’s shareholder approval, taken at a general meeting, but dos Santos herself in turn signed the Sonangol shareholders’ resolution.

Dutch justices however said dos Santos and her associates on the Sonangol board had already been axed hours before by president Lourenco, who has promised a hard-line stance against graft.

Dos Santos and her associates then illegally backdated the Sonangol resolutions to make it appear that it was signed while they were still on the board, the justices said.

“The decisions have been deliberately backdated to conceal the fact” that they were taken while dos Santos and another board director were not authorised to act for Sonangol, they said.

– Corruption crackdown –
Lourenco has vowed to crack down on corruption since dos Santos retired in 2017, removing his predecessor’s cronies from key positions and probing the former regime for alleged graft.

He has targeted several members of the dos Santos family, including Isabel and her younger brother Jose Filomeno dos Santos, sentenced to five years in prison for diverting oil revenues last year.

Isabel is the eldest daughter of Angola’s ex-president, accused of ruling the country with an iron fist, leaving a legacy of poverty and nepotism.

The British-educated billionaire businesswoman has faced several allegations of plundering the public purse and funnelling the money abroad.

jhe/rox

© Agence France-Presse

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