The Angolan Supreme Court has ordered the preventive seizure of $1 billion of assets from Isabel dos Santos, including potentially millions of euros allegedly embezzled and held in shell companies in Malta.
In its ruling on Tuesday, the Angolan Supreme court called specifically for the preventive seizure of 70% of the shares of Mozambique telecommunications company Mstar and 70% of dos Santos’ shares in the Portuguese Upstar Comunicação.
The shareholding in those two companies is owned by dos Santos – the daughter of former Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos – through just one of the 14 shell companies she and her husband incorporated in Malta.
The Angolan court determined in its ruling that dos Santos is indeed the ultimate beneficial owner of the telecommunications companies through her ownership of the St Julian’s-registered shell company Kento Holding Limited.
The Luanda Leaks exposed how dos Santos and her husband – Congolese businessman Sindika Dokolo who died in 2020 in a diving accident – set up a complex web of shell companies to allegedly channel illicit funds from embezzlement, money laundering and trading in influence.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) investigation showed how insider deals, political connections and a multitude of Western enablers helped dos Santos amass a fortune after being handed deals in oil, diamonds, beer production and telecommunications, among others.
She set up a total of 14 such shell companies in Malta, where untold millions have been stashed or staged over the years.
In March 2021, the company named by the Angolan Supreme Court – Kento Holding – was fined €191,000 by the Maltese tax authorities, which launched an investigation into dos Santos in the wake of the Luanda Leaks revelations.
They found that Kento Holding carries out no economic activity in Malta and, as such, it was not entitled to the VAT refund it was claiming. The company is only used to receive ‘consultancy fees’ related to television acquisition and redistribution rights.
It also holds 70% stakes in both Upstar Comunicação and Mstar of Mozambique, which were ordered to be preventively seized.
Last month Interpol issued an international warrant for dos Santos following a request from Angolan prosecutors, which alleges dos Santos created corrupt financial mechanisms between 2015 and 2017.
Dos Santos has denied the claims that she benefited unfairly from her father’s position as Angolan president or any other wrongdoing and that she was being politically victimised.
Angolan and Portuguese authorities last year froze dos Santos’ assets and bank accounts and launched criminal investigations, and the business empire was largely dismantled.
Dos Santos was named Africa’s richest woman in 2020 by Forbes magazine, with an estimated net worth of $1.5 billion.
According to the ICIJ’s investigation, Malta had the third-highest number of companies linked to the couple’s business empire (14), after Angola itself (81 companies) and Portugal (17 companies).
Malta had more financial companies involved when compared to Portugal (13 compared to 11 in Portugal).
As such, it would appear a significant portion of dos Santos’ alleged ill-gotten wealth is or was stored in her Maltese companies.
The 14 companies incorporated in Malta: are Kento Holding Limited, Wise Intelligence Solutions Holding Limited, Wise Intelligence Solutions Limited, Victoria HoIding Limited, Victoria Limited, Alcea Holding Limited, Athol Limited, Finisantoro Holding Limited, Espaços Media Group Limited, Winterfell Industries Limited, EMG Consulting Limited, Winterfell 2 Limited, Global Land Limited, and Supply International Limited.