Angola has frozen the assets of Isabel dos Santos, the billionaire daughter of the country’s previous leader, in a sign that the country’s current president is taking a tougher line against the former first family.
President João Lourenço ended former-President José Eduardo dos Santos’ nearly 40-year grip on power in 2017 and has been trying since then to erase the influence of his predecessor and reform Angola, sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest economy. But Mr. Lourenço is under pressure as the country continues to contract under his watch.
Ms. dos Santos said the asset freeze ordered by a court was “politically motivated” and that the case against her had been held in total secrecy.
“The judgment contains statements which are completely untrue,” she said in a statement. “It would have been easy to dismantle them in an open court.”
She said she would use “all the instruments of Angolan and international law” to fight the court order.
The move against her comes as the ex-president’s son, José Filomeno de Sousa, faces corruption charges, accused of helping transfer $500 million from the sovereign wealth fund.
Called “Africa’s wealthiest woman,” Ms. dos Santos amassed a fortune estimated at more than $2 billion through stakes in Angolan companies including banks and the telecom firm Unitel, earning her the nickname “the Princess.”
She chaired the state oil company Sonangol before being sacked by Mr. Lourenço months after he came to power.
A court document dated Dec. 23 said the government believed Ms. dos Santos, her husband Sindika Dokolo and Mário Leite da Silva, chairman of Banco de Fomento Angola had caused the state losses of more than $1 billion.
“The state through its companies Sodiam (a diamond marketing firm) and Sonangol transferred enormous quantities of foreign currency to companies abroad whose beneficiaries are the defendants, without receiving the agreed return,” the court said. “The defendants recognize the existence of the debt but allege that they do not have the means to pay.”
Mr. Dokolo told Reuters that the Angolan government was pushing for a freeze on his and his wife’s international assets as well. He said Mr. Lourenço’s government was trying to portray him and his wife as criminals without proper evidence.
Reuters was unable to reach Mr. da Silva, and Banco de Fomento Angola did not answer calls seeking comment.
The asset freeze applies to personal bank accounts of Ms. dos Santos, Mr. Dokolo and Mr. da Silva in Angola and stakes they hold in Angolan firms including Unitel, Banco de Fomento Angola and ZAP MIDIA. Ms. dos Santos is believed to live in Portugal and Britain and to have a significant portion of her wealth offshore.
The court said the central bank would ensure that no funds leave the Angolan bank accounts of the three accused.
The boards of each of the nine Angolan companies affected by the asset freeze must ensure that the relevant stakes are not sold and that no profits from the shares are transferred to the accused.
The court said Ms. dos Santos had tried to transfer some of her businesses to Russia and that Portuguese police had blocked a transfer of 10 million euros ($11 million) from one of her business partners to Russia.
Darias Jonker, Africa director at Eurasia Group, said the asset freeze showed Mr. Lourenço felt he could now move aggressively against the dos Santos family without risking his control over the ruling MPLA party.
“The key prize is the neutralization of Isabel dos Santos,” Mr. Jonker said.