Angola: Sonangol to get back €83M seized from company linked to Isabel dos Santos

A judge in Portugal has ordered the return to Sonangol of about 83 million euros that had been seized from Esperaza Holding, a company that brings together the Angolan state oil company and Exem Energy, owned by Isabel dos Santos.

The case dates back to December 2021, following a request by Esperaza, which requested the revocation of the seizure of the balances it held in its account, amounting to almost 83 million euros.

The funds, which had been seized in April 2021 as part of judicial investigations related to Angolan businesswoman, Isabel do Santos, daughter of former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos, were considered by the court to belong exclusively to Sonangol.

In the order signed by Ivo Rosa, to which Lusa had access, the judge concluded, based on new evidence, that the sums seized from Esperaza’s bank accounts were not the product or advantage of a crime of abuse of trust, corruption or the banking operations in question were laundering manoeuvres.

The sum in question was the result of dividends paid to Esperaza by Amorim Energia.

In July last year, a Dutch court had already ruled in favour of the Angolan oil company, recognising Sonangol as the sole owner of Esperaza Holding BV, in a dispute between the Angolan company and Exem Energy.

This joint venture, in which Sonangol held 60% of the shares and Exem the remaining 40%, controls 45% of Amorim Energia which, in turn, is a reference shareholder of Galp (with 33.34% of the share capital).

The dispute concerned the 40% stake that Exem held in Esperaza, the vehicle through which the Angolan oil company made a large and successful investment in Galp in 2006 and that had allegedly been sold by Sonangol, with the oil company being reinstated as sole shareholder.

The judge Ivo Rosa concluded after analysing the facts that the amounts in question belong to the plaintiff (Esperaza) and, indirectly, exclusively to Sonangol as a result of a legal transaction – distribution of dividends

“Thus being (…) the bank balances in question cannot be declared lost in favour of the State or that they are the product or advantage of the crimes under investigation”, so the requirements for precautionary seizure of Esperaza’s bank balances are no longer maintained and its lifting was determined.

The order mentions that Exem’s participation was given as legally inexistent, as it was based on a null and void deal due to an offence against Dutch public order.

It also addresses disputes between shareholders regarding dividends and directors, including Mário Leite da Silva, a trusted man of Isabel dos Santos, who was suspended from the board of directors following a judicial enquiry into the management and procedures of Esperaza between December 21, 2006 and March 13, 2020, as well as the suspension of banking operations of several accounts of people with connections to Isabel dos Santos, her former manager Mário Leite da Silva and Sindika Dokolo, her husband (now deceased).

On 26 August 2020, the Esperaza shares held by Exem (whose owner and final beneficiary was Sindika Dokolo) were seized and the company was considered a suspect in pending criminal proceedings.