Isabel dos Santos claims bulk of loans to Portuguese banks repaid

It is alleged dos Santos steered US$1 bil to companies she and her husband have stakes in. (AP pic)

LISBON: Angolan billionaire former first daughter Isabel dos Santos said on Thursday her companies in Portugal, where prosecutors seized her bank accounts last week, still owed local banks €180 million after repaying the bulk of the loans.

Dos Santos’ assets in Angola were seized late last year over allegations that she steered US$1 billion to companies where she and her husband held stakes.

Portugal’s prosecutor followed suit on Feb 11, freezing her personal accounts and those of the firms she directly owns in the country.

Dos Santos, reputedly Africa’s richest woman, said in a statement on Thursday Portuguese banks loaned the European-registered firms she controls around €571 million over the past few years. Her companies repaid €391 million “without ever missing a payment”, she said, leaving €180 million to reimburse.

She also said that, unlike in Angola, the Portuguese asset freeze prevented her from paying salaries and taxes at her own firms, which include venture capital and private equity firm Fidequity and smaller companies handling her investment in the country.

“The inexplicable and unfounded arrest of my personal and company accounts in Portugal is preventing account activity in various banks, with a serious risk of destroying value for all stakeholders,” she said in a statement sent to Reuters.

She said that “we will continue to do everything to meet our obligations with the financial partners”, as well as with the workers and the state.

Portuguese paper Expresso, part of the International Consortium of Journalists that revealed hundreds of thousands of documents on the businesswoman’s activities, reported last week that dos Santos’ companies owed thirteen Portuguese banks a total of €570 million.

The majority consists of loans relating to dos Santos’ investment in engineering firm Efacec, in which she bought a controlling stake for around €200 million in 2015. Banks involved include Caixa Geral de Depositos, Portugal’s largest public sector bank.

Efacec said in January that dos Santos would withdraw from the firm’s shareholding structure, but it is not yet clear who will buy her shares. It also said last week it was operating normally despite the seizure of dos Santos’ bank accounts.