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Court Rules Against Africa’s Richest Woman In Oil Asset Case

The International Court of Arbitration in the Netherlands has ruled that Angola’s state oil firm Sonangol is the sole owner of an indirect stake in Portuguese energy company Galp, which Sonangol’s former boss Isabel Dos Santos had funneled to a company she controlled.

Isabel dos Santos was made head of Sonangol in 2016 by her father, the former president of Angola, José Eduardo dos Santos, who had been president for nearly 40 years before stepping down in 2017. Back then, the new president, Joao Lourenço, sacked Isabel dos Santos from her post at Sonangol. Angola’s authorities then started to investigate Isabel dos Santos, who is said to have a fortune of around $2.1 billion and was believed to be Africa’s richest woman.

Prosecutors charged Isabel dos Santos in early 2020 with money laundering and embezzlement while she was chair of the state oil firm Sonangol.

In the latest case against dos Santos, the Dutch court has ruled that an indirect 6-percent stake in Portugal’s Galp—estimated to be worth $500 million—should be returned to Angola, lawyers for Sonangol told Reuters on Tuesday.

The transfer of the indirect stake in Galp to a company held by Isabel dos Santos was “tainted by illegality, enabling Ms. Isabel dos Santos ... to reap an extraordinary financial gain to the detriment of Sonangol and, consequently, of the State of Angola,” the Dutch tribunal said, as carried by Reuters.

After the court’s decision, Sonangol will become the sole owner of the vehicle, Esperaza Holdings B.V., which was used by Sonangol to buy shares in Galp back in 2006, the Angolan state oil firm said in a statement on Monday. Sonangol considered buying the shares in Galp a large and successful investment. The 40-percent in Esperaza Holdings, which was at the center of the legal dispute between dos Santos and Sonangol, has a market value of around $700 million, according to the Angolan oil firm.

Dos Santos denies wrongdoing and says the current Angolan authorities are on a witch-hunt against her.

By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com

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