Isabel dos Santos exits role in leading Angolan operator

Isabel dos Santos exits role in leading Angolan operator

The strange saga of Angolan billionaire Isabel dos Santos and an ongoing alleged financial scandal has taken a new turn with her decision to leave her position on the board of the country’s leading telecommunications operator.

According to Reuters and Portuguese news media, she chose to leave her post as a member of Unitel’s board of directors amid ongoing tensions between board members.

In her resignation statement, dos Santos, who holds a 25 percent stake in Unitel, referred to a 20-year period dedicated to the creation, development and success of Unitel. But Unitel is not her only interest. The daughter of former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who was replaced by Joao Lourenco in September 2017 after 38 years in power, has amassed a fortune of over $2 billion through stakes in various companies. 

As an example, she was once chairwoman of Sonangol, the group that oversees petroleum and natural gas production in Angola. In January, Angola named dos Santos a formal suspect over allegations of mismanagement and misappropriation of funds during her time as chairwoman of Sonangol, which had already indicated it wanted to reduce the influence of dos Santos in Unitel, which it part owns.

In the same month troubled Brazilian carrier Oi sold its 25 percent stake in Unitel to Sonangol for one billion dollars. The state-owned firm already owned 25 percent; after the deal it had a 50 percent share. The remaining shares belong to two other companies, Geni and Vidatel. Vidatel is, or was, controlled by Isabel dos Santos. 

However, before this, in December 2019, Angola froze the assets of dos Santos, including stakes she held in Angolan firms such as Unitel, BFA and ZAP MIDIA.

Following this tangled trail is as difficult as working out what will happen next. Isabel dos Santos has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and whether her exit encourages the Unitel board to discover a sense of unity is by no means certain.

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