Interpol issues red notice for dos Santos as Unitel delays privatisation

Interpol issues red notice for dos Santos as Unitel delays privatisation

Global police agency Interpol has issued a red notice for Angolan billionaire Isabel dos Santos, daughter of the country's former president and previously a board member of the now state-owned operator Unitel.

In a statement made to news agency Reuters, Interpol explained that a red notice was made at the request of the Angolan authorities, and was "not an international arrest warrant" but a "request to law enforcement worldwide to locate and provisionally arrest a person pending extradition, surrender, or similar legal action".

The statement was intended to clarify an 18th November report by Portugal's Lusa news agency which inaccurately claimed that Interpol had issued an international arrest warrant for dos Santos. On 19th November, an anonymous source close to dos Santos told Reuters that she had not yet been notified by Interpol, and dos Santos herself has thus far provided no comment, although in an interview with CNN Portugal on 29th November 2022, she claimed that Angola’s courts were “not independent” and were “used to fulfil a political agenda.”

Dos Santos has been dogged by allegations of corruption for years, although she has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. Lusa cited an official document from Interpol which stated that she was wanted for crimes including alleged embezzlement, fraud, influence peddling and money laundering.

In December 2019, the Angolan state froze her assets – worth over US$2 billion - including stakes she held in several state-owned companies including Unitel, BFA and ZAP MIDIA. In January 2020, the government of Angola named her as a formal suspect over allegations of mismanagement and misappropriation of funds during her time as chairwoman of state oil and gas company Sonangol, alleging that she and her husband had appropriated $1 billion in state funds from the oil firm and other companies in which she took holdings during the 38-year presidency of her father, Jose Eduardo dos Santos.

In the same month, Sonangol increased its holding in Unitel to 50% after acquiring a 25% stake from Brazil’s Oi. The remaining shares in Unitel were split into two 25% stakes held separately by Geni and Vidatel – companies that were respectively controlled by General Leopoldino ‘Dino’ Fragoso do Nascimento, an associate of the former president, and Isabel dos Santos herself.

Sonangol had made clear that it intended to reduce dos Santos’ influence over Unitel, and in August 2020 she chose to give up her role on the operator’s board. In January 2022, Vidatel and Geni’s stakes in Unitel were seized by the Attorney General’s Office, stripping de Santos and General Dino of shareholder control and preventing them from receiving dividends. Last month, President President Joao Lourenco effectively nationalised Unitel by finalising the transfer of ownership of these stakes to the government,

With the Angolan state now owning the total capital stock of Unitel, questions have arisen around privatisation. However, a recent report by newspaper Valor Economico quoted Patricio Bicudo Vilar, the chairman of the board of directors of Angola’s State Assets & Participations Management Institute (Instituto de Gestao de Activos e Participacoes do Estado, IGAPE), as saying that such proposals would not manifest until end-2023 at the earliest. Vilar added that no decision has been made on whether the shares would be sold via a public tender, stock exchange offering, or other method.

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