Angola has asked a Dutch court to hand over a half-billion-dollar stake in the Portuguese oil company Galp linked to ex-first daughter Isabel Dos Santos, its lawyers told Reuters.
Angola’s government says top officials under former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos took advantage of high oil prices in the last decade to spin a global web of business deals that led to their personal enrichment at the country’s expense.
Battered by COVID-19 economic fallout and mired in foreign debt, Angola is seeking to recover assets it says were siphoned off.
Its prime focus is Isabel dos Santos, the ex-president’s daughter, a business tycoon who became Africa’s richest woman.
The legal bid for the Galp stake has not previously been reported.
Dos Santos briefly ran state oil company Sonangol from 2016 until 2017, when her father’s four-decade rule ended.
Representatives for Isabel dos Santos, who lives outside Angola, did not reply to a Reuters request for comment.
She has denied any connection to the holding company at the centre of the case - Exem - which she says was owned by her late husband, rejects charges of wrongdoing and says she faces a political witch hunt by Angola’s new leadership.
Representatives of Exem did not reply to a request for comment. Dutch law firm Van Doorne, which represents Exem in the lawsuit, also did not respond to a request for comment.
The legal claim by Sonangol is due to be heard in the last week of May in the Amsterdam court of appeal, the 100%-state owned company’s lawyer Emmanuel Gaillard of law firm Shearman & Sterling said.
It will argue that Exem’s stake was acquired through embezzlement and money laundering.
“It’s all corruption ... you (Exem) owe us the shares, the indirect participation in Galp, because it’s theft. It’s illegal, therefore you have to pay it back,” Gaillard said.
Sonangol’s lawyers say the sale by Sonangol of part of its stake in Esperaza to Exem made no business sense for Angola and was made to enrich the former first family.
Under President Dos Santos, Sonangol sold a 40% stake in an offshore holding company, Esperaza, to another holding company - Exem - owned by Isabel’s husband Sindika Dokolo, a Congolese businessman who died in a diving accident last year.
Esperaza, in which Sonangol retained a 60% stake, in turn partnered with the business empire of Portugal’s Amorim family to form yet another holding company, Amorim Energia, which is the largest shareholder in Portuguese oil company Galp Energia with a 33.3% stake.
The value of holding company Exem’s indirect stake in Galp fluctuates with oil prices and is currently worth about $500 million.
A source with knowledge of the Amorim family’s position, who declined to be named, said its main interlocutor in the joint stake was not Exem but Sonangol, calling their partnership with the state firm “good and close”.
“(The case) does not affect these relations, it does not change anything”, the source added.
A representative of Esperaza did not respond to a request for comment.
Galp has said it has no dealings with Dos Santos. It declined further comment for this story.
The dispute, which is being heard in Amsterdam after both sides agreed on arbitration, already resulted in a ruling last September that removed Exem’s representative from Esperaza’s board and put its stake under the control of a court-appointed trustee.
The path has been cleared for Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to become the first woman and the first African to lead the World Trade Organization after South Korea's candidate pulled out of the race for the job.
Yoo Myung-hee, the South Korean trade minister, announced her decision to withdraw in a televised briefing on Friday.
Okonjo-Iweala, an economist and former finance minister of Nigeria, already enjoyed broad support from WTO members, including the European Union, China, Japan and Australia.
However, the United States, under the Trump administration, had favored Yoo, complicating the decision-making process since the selection of a new leader requires all WTO members to agree. Okonjo-Iweala's formal selection may have to wait until after the United States appoints a new trade representative.
Yoo said that her decision had been reached after "close consultation" with the United States. The WTO had been without a leader for too long, she added.
The Geneva-based body, tasked with promoting free trade, has been without a permanent director general since Roberto Azevêdo stepped down a year earlier than planned at the end of August after the WTO was caught in the middle of an escalating trade fight between the United States and China.
The Trump administration was highly critical of the WTO and undermined its standing by imposing tariffs on Canada, Mexico, China and the European Union. Okonjo-Iweala will thus assume control of an organization that has struggled to prevent trade spats between its members.
While US President Joe Biden has already taken steps to restore support for multilateral institutions, he is expected to proceed with caution when it comes to signing any new trade deals.
In a speech to the State Department Thursday, Biden pledged to put diplomacy back at the center of US foreign policy, but was also careful to emphasize that foreign policy should benefit middle-class Americans.
Okonjo-Iweala, who hails from one of the few parts of the world where free trade is ascendent, told CNN in August that trade would play an important role in the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
"The WTO needs a leader at this time. It needs a fresh look, a fresh face, an outsider, someone with the capability to implement reforms and to work with members to make sure the WTO comes out of the partial paralysis that it's in," she said in an interview.
Okonjo-Iweala spent 25 years at the World Bank as a development economist, rising to the position of managing director. She also chaired the board of Gavi, which is helping to distribute coronavirus vaccines globally, stepping down at the end of her term in December.