Angola’s Isabel dos Santos fights bid to freeze $736 million in assets

By Sam Tobin

LONDON (Reuters) – Angolan billionaire Isabel dos Santos is fighting an application to freeze up to 580 million pounds ($736 million) of her assets, telling London’s High Court on Wednesday that she is the victim of a “campaign of oppression” by Angola.

Dos Santos – Africa’s first female billionaire, whose father Jose Eduardo dos Santos ruled Angola for 38 years until 2017 – has faced corruption accusations in Angola for years.

She denies the allegations and says she is the target of a long-running political vendetta, which has seen her assets frozen or seized in Angola and Portugal.

Angolan telecoms operator Unitel is suing dos Santos over loans made to Dutch company Unitel International Holdings (UIH) in 2012 and 2013, when dos Santos was a Unitel director, to fund UIH’s acquisition of shares in telecoms companies.

The loans were not repaid and around 300 million pounds is outstanding, according to Unitel, which successfully had dos Santos added to the lawsuit in May.

Dos Santos says Unitel is itself responsible for UIH’s inability to repay the loans because of its alleged role in Angola’s unlawful seizure of UIH’s assets.

Unitel denies any involvement in the asset seizure and says dos Santos is trying to turn the case into “another battle in a PR war against her father’s successor”, Joao Lourenco.

Its lawyer Paul Sinclair told the High Court on Wednesday that the accumulation of dos Santos’ wealth was “a classic tale of kleptocracy (and) corruption”.

Unitel is seeking a worldwide freezing order to prevent dos Santos putting her assets beyond the company’s reach.

But dos Santos is opposing Unitel’s application, which her lawyer Richard Hill said in court filings was part of a “politically-motivated campaign by the Angolan state”.

He also said the Angolan freezing order was obtained with “fabricated evidence, which included a forged copy of her passport featuring the signature of Bruce Lee”.

The hearing of Unitel’s application is due to conclude on Thursday, with a ruling expected at a later date.

(Reporting by Sam Tobin; Editing by Jan Harvey)