Home » Fall from fortune: Isabel dos Santos denied access to $734 million in UK assets

Fall from fortune: Isabel dos Santos denied access to $734 million in UK assets

Dos Santos' legal woes deepen, judge highlights $100 million properties in London, Dubai, and Monaco

by Omokolade Ajayi
Isabel dos Santos

Isabel dos Santos, once Africa’s richest woman, suffered a major setback as a London judge froze £580 million ($734 million) of her assets on Wednesday in a complex legal battle with Angolan telecommunications giant Unitel SA.

The ruling, delivered on Wednesday, comes as dos Santos faces mounting legal challenges, including accusations of causing over $5 billion in losses to Angola during her father’s 38-year rule.

The freeze order, issued by the London judge, targets dos Santos and her Dutch holding company, Unitel International Holdings BV, for defaulting on loans totaling around €325 million ($410.5 million) and $44 million ($55.6 million).

Dos Santos’ legal woes deepen, judge highlights $100 million in properties in London, Dubai, and Monaco

These funds, intended to finance Unitel International Holdings’ interests in various telecom companies, were allegedly diverted despite the lack of direct corporate ties. 

Unitel argued that the loans were “uncommercial” due to suspiciously low interest rates, suggesting personal gain. The judge, in agreement with Unitel, pointed to dos Santos’ properties in London, Dubai, and Monaco, which exceeded $100 million in value.

Dos Santos, a Unitel director until 2020, is accused of effectively controlling the company, a claim supported by the judge who stated that it is controlled by the Angolan state. This legal blow adds to her battle against multibillion-dollar Angolan loss accusations, frozen assets in Angola and Portugal, and an Interpol warrant. 

Dos Santos’ lawyers call the lawsuit politically motivated by the Angolan government, citing ongoing feuds. Neither dos Santos, nor Unitel’s lawyers have commented further.

A string of legal woes for the former billionaire

A year ago, the Angola Supreme Court ordered the seizure of $1 billion in assets belonging to dos Santos, citing evidence of embezzlement, influence peddling, economic involvement in business, and money laundering. The order included freezing 70 percent of dos Santos’ shares in Mstar, a Mozambican telecom company, and Upstar Comunicacao.

Once considered Africa’s wealthiest woman, with a net worth exceeding $2 billion, dos Santos was removed from Forbes’ list in January 2021 after her bank accounts and assets were seized in Angola, Portugal, and the Netherlands.

In May 2023, a report revealed that dos Santos could face a $400-million London lawsuit brought by Unitel. The telecom firm claims dos Santos’ Dutch company, Unitel International Holdings, failed to repay loans provided for the acquisition of telecoms company shares.

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