Unitel implicated in the #LuandaLeaks scandal

Unitel implicated in the #LuandaLeaks scandal

22 January 2020 | Natalie Bannerman

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Unitel, the largest telco in Angola, has been named as one of the companies allegedly used by Isabel dos Santos as part of the Luanda Leaks scandal.

Seizing international headlines earlier this week, billionaire Isabel dos Santos has been accused of exploiting her country and her position as the daughter of the former president of Angola, Jose Eduardo, to acquire her empire in the oil, banking and telecoms sectors.

Referred to as Luanda Leaks, a nod to dos Santos' controversial redevelopment plans in Angola’s capital of Luanda, is a collection of more than 700,000 leaked documents.

Complied by the Platform to Protect Whistle-blowers in Africa and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) it details how those companies came about including presidential orders she reportedly benefitted from, amassing her $2 billion fortune.

In one such document, it implicates dos Santos as having arranged for Unitel, which she is its biggest shareholder, to lend €350 million to a company she started called Unitel International Holdings. Despite the name, Dos Santos owns Unitel International Holdings entirely and it has no connections to the aforementioned telco.

According to the BBC, the documents show that Dos Santos signed off on the loans as both lender and borrower, which is a clear conflict of interest.

In her response, however, dos Santos says that the Unitel board of directors approved the loans to Unitel International Holdings adding that “any allegation that the loans amounted to looting of public money is false... as Unitel is privately funded and does not have recourse to public funds." 

"This loan had both directors' approval and shareholders' approval, and it's a loan that will generate, and has generated, benefit for Unitel," she continued.  

Dos Santos says that by issuing the loans, it protected Unitel from currency fluctuations.

 “…the loans to Unitel International served an important financial purpose for Unitel, because Unitel used them to hedge against devaluation of Angolan Kwanza which is frequently subject to sudden and significant changes in value," she said.

In a personal Tweet dos Santos said: “The ICIJ report is based on many fake documents and false information, it is a coordinated political attack in co-ordination with the Angolan government.” Speaking to Reuters she said that the claims are “completely unfounded “and accused the authorities of a “witch hunt”.

However, the ICIJ argues that Unitel can not prove that its board had the approved the loans to Unitel International.

Since the Luanda Leaks story broke dos Santos has had her personal accounts frozen, as well as those of her husband and her stakes in some of the country’s largest companies, which included Unitel. Another such companies that have severed ties is PwC, which previously advised companies belonging to dos Santos and her husband.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Bob Moritz PwC’s global chairman told the Guardian that he was shocked and disappointed” in the allegations and that the company would “… look at the individual behaviours, as to whether they come out of leadership roles or have compensation implications, or maybe even out of jobs.”

Having left Angola in 2018 and currently residing in London, dos Santos is expected to face extradition back to Angola. Earlier this week Angola’s prosecutor general Helder Pitra Gros, under the instructions of president Joao Lourenco said that the government would use “all possible means and activate international mechanisms to bring dos Santos back to the country" and that it has “asked for international support from Portugal, Dubai and other countries."