Africa’s richest woman says seized assets hinder debt repayment

Africa's richest woman Isabel dos Santos

Africa’s richest woman and former first daughter of Angola Isabel dos Santos said that her companies in Portugal, where prosecutors seized her bank accounts last week, still owed local banks 180 million euros ($194m) after repaying the bulk of the loans.

“The inexplicable and unfounded arrest of my personal and company accounts in Portugal is preventing account activity in various banks, with a serious risk of destroying value for all stakeholders,” dos Santos said in a statement.

“We will continue to do everything to meet our obligations with the financial partners, as well as with the workers and the state,” it added.

Dos Santos’s assets in Angola were seized late last year over allegations that she steered $1bn to companies where she and her husband held stakes. Portugal’s prosecutor followed suit on February 11, freezing her personal accounts and those of the firms she directly owns in the country.

She said that Portuguese banks loaned the European-registered firms she controls around 571 million euros ($617m) over the past few years.

Her companies repaid 391 million euros ($422m) “without ever missing a payment”, she said, leaving 180 million euros ($194m) to reimburse.

She also said that, unlike in Angola, the asset freeze in Portugal prevented her from paying salaries and taxes at her own firms, which include venture capital and private equity firm Fidequity and smaller companies handling her investment in the country.

Portuguese newspaper Expresso, part of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that revealed hundreds of thousands of documents on the businesswoman’s activities, reported last week that dos Santos’s companies owed 13 Portuguese banks a total of 570 million euros ($615m).

The majority consists of loans relating to dos Santos’s investment in engineering firm Efacec, in which she bought a controlling stake for around 200 million euros ($214m) in 2015.

Banks involved include Caixa Geral de Depositos, Portugal’s largest public sector bank.

Efacec said in January that dos Santos would withdraw from the firm’s shareholding structure, but it is not yet clear who will buy her shares. It also said last week it was operating normally despite the seizure of dos Santos’s bank accounts

Dos Santos has denied all accusations made against her.

“This is a very concentrated attack. It is an attack that has been very well coordinated. It’s an attack coordinated with foreign media that is working with the Angolan authorities to create a false perception of my business,” Dos Santos said in an interview.


Chidi Nwoke.