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Legal setback for Africa’s first female billionaire Isabel dos Santos as High Court upholds $735 million asset freeze



Legal setback for Africa's first female billionaire Isabel dos Santos as High Court upholds $735 million asset freeze

In a significant legal blow, Isabel dos Santos, Africa’s first female billionaire, has lost her battle against a London High Court application to freeze a staggering £580 million ($735 million) of her assets. The legal skirmish unfolded as dos Santos faced a lawsuit from Angolan telecoms operator Unitel, marking a contentious chapter in her already embattled legal history.


The daughter of former Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who held power for 38 years until 2017, Isabel dos Santos is no stranger to controversy. The High Court’s decision to grant a worldwide freezing order over her assets is a result of a lawsuit filed by Unitel, accusing dos Santos of defaulting on loans extended to her Dutch firm, Unitel International Holdings (UIH), in 2012 and 2013.


Unitel’s legal action contends that dos Santos, who was a director of Unitel at the time, failed to repay the loans, leaving an outstanding balance of nearly $395 million, plus accumulated interest. The freezing order, granted by Judge Robert Bright, signifies a significant setback for dos Santos, whose wealth and financial dealings have been under intense scrutiny, both in Angola and internationally.


The legal saga stems from dos Santos’ alleged mismanagement of funds and questionable financial transactions during her father’s presidency. Among the accusations, dos Santos and her husband have been accused of utilizing $1 billion in state funds to finance companies in which they held stakes, including those tied to the oil giant Sonangol.


Unitel’s claim focuses on the loans given to UIH, and dos Santos argues that Unitel should bear responsibility for the failure to repay, attributing it to Unitel’s alleged involvement in the unlawful seizure of UIH’s assets by the Angolan government. The legal battle raises complex issues surrounding corporate governance, financial accountability, and the intersection of political power and business interests.


Isabel dos Santos, a prominent figure in the business world with extensive investments in various sectors, has consistently denied any wrongdoing, asserting that she is the victim of a prolonged political vendetta. The freezing or confiscation of her assets in Angola and Portugal has been a focal point of contention, with dos Santos claiming that additional freezing orders are unnecessary due to existing measures in place in other jurisdictions.


Despite dos Santos’ arguments, Judge Robert Bright, in a written ruling, dismissed the notion that existing freezing orders in other countries negate the necessity for an additional order in the London High Court. The decision underscores the court’s determination to independently assess the merit of the freezing order application, irrespective of legal actions in other jurisdictions.


The legal battle involving dos Santos and Unitel is emblematic of broader challenges faced by African nations in addressing corruption and financial impropriety. The case not only scrutinizes individual conduct but also delves into the corporate structures and governance practices that underpin vast business empires.


As the legal proceedings unfold, dos Santos’ legal team is likely to explore avenues for appeal, prolonging a legal saga that has far-reaching implications. The decision by the London High Court further fuels the ongoing debate surrounding transparency, accountability, and the relationship between political influence and corporate activities in the African context.


In conclusion, Isabel dos Santos’ loss in the legal battle over the asset freeze marks a pivotal moment in her ongoing legal struggles. The decision by the London High Court underscores the complexity of the case and the court’s commitment to impartially assess allegations of financial impropriety. As dos Santos navigates this legal quagmire, the case continues to draw attention to broader issues of governance, accountability, and the intricate interplay between political power and business interests in Africa.

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