Angola’s Isabel dos Santos crawled into $400 million lawsuit

Angola billionaire and Africa richest woman, Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of the country’s former president, is personally being brought to court for a $400 million lawsuit.

Unitel, the Angolan telecoms operator, had taken dos Santos’ company, Unitel International Holdings (UIH), to court because of a debt that remained unpaid. The loan dates back to 2012 and 2013, when dos Santos was a director of Unitel. UIH had used the loan to acquire shares in telecoms companies, but $395 million plus interest has remained outstanding.

Unitel applied to add dos Santos to the case in place of UIH, and the High Court of London ruled in favour of Unitel on Thursday. It was ruled that despite the two companies having the same name, dos Santos should be regarded as having direct responsibility for repayment of the debt to Unitel. Dos Santos had resigned as a director of Unitel in 2020.

Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of Angola’s former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos who ruled the country for 38 years until 2017, was declared Africa’s first female billionaire by Forbes in 2019. This lawsuit could be a huge blow to her billionaire status, and she could potentially be liable to pay all of the outstanding debts to Unitel. It could become a monumental legal case that could quite possibly affect dos Santos’ vast wealth, as the indebtedness to Unitel is spread across various jurisdictions.

This lawsuit comes at a time when Angola is facing increased scrutiny for missing funds and corruption in its government. Her father, who left office in 2019, is currently under investigation for missing funds and is being held under house arrest. His daughter’s legal case could further increase the public scrutiny in Angola and lead to further opposition to the former president and his allies.

It remains to be seen if dos Santos will accept the judgement and potential penalty, or will attempt to challenge the operations and the decision of the court. Should it go to a court case, it could be the most high-profile trial the country has had in years, with a huge amount of capital potentially on the line.

On Thursday, Judge Mark Pelling ruled that dos Santos should be added to the existing Unitel lawsuit. This decision comes after Unitel accused dos Santos of breaching her duties as a director of the company, alleging that she had failed to manage its affairs responsibly. Dos Santos, however, stands firmly by her statement that she never breached her director’s duties and instead believes that Unitel is responsible for the financial distress of UIH.

The allegations against dos Santos are nothing new, with the former first daughter of Angola facing corruption claims for years. It is said that she and her husband used their political power to move around $1 billion in funds from Angola’s state-run companies to businesses they had stakes in during her father’s presidency.

Since these claims of wrongdoing began to surface, dos Santos has vehemently denied any wrongdoings. Her lawyers have dismissed the accusations against her as being part of a “political conspiracy” and are appealing the court’s decision. She has also suffered financially with the recent seizing of around $1 billion of her assets in Angola as well as other assets located in Portugal.

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