BVI court rules Isabel dos Santos should lose Unitel stake

9 Dec 2020

According to a decision from the Supreme Court of the British Virgin Islands (BVI), embattled Angolan businesswoman Isabel dos Santos will lose control of her BVI-registered company Vidatel – which holds a 25% stake in Angola’s leading mobile operator Unitel – and henceforth will no longer have rights to vote, participate in shareholders’ meetings or receive dividends at Unitel. The court judgement was reported yesterday (8 December 2020) by news sites including Angola Press Agency (ANGOP) and state-run media outlets Public Television of Angola (TPA), National Radio of Angola (RNA) and Jornal de Angola.

According to ANGOP, the judicial administrators of the Commercial Division of the Supreme Court of the BVI decided to transfer to their management all bank accounts held and controlled by Vidatel. The decision covers all inherent rights, including past and future dividends. The court decided, in an order dated 19 November, following a lawsuit, to appoint judicial administrators for the management of specific assets of Vidatel. The report continued: ‘Judicial co-administrators were appointed to preserve and secure the relevant assets, pending confirmation of Vidatel’s conviction in relation to the arbitral award rendered in favour of [former Unitel shareholder] PT Ventures, by the ICC [International Chamber of Commerce] on 20 February 2019, before the Paris Court of Appeal [note: on that date a final decision ordered Unitel’s owners Sonangol/MSTelcom, Vidatel and Geni to pay PT Ventures, a subsidiary of Brazilian telco Oi, USD654.2 million plus USD13 million costs]. Judicial co-administrators must take any measures they deem necessary or desirable, including, in particular, measures to protect the company’s relevant assets.’

Earlier, the Provincial Court of Luanda, in case 3301/2019-C dated 30 December 2019, determined the preventive seizure of Vidatel’s 25% stake in Unitel, a decision recognised as valid by the BVI court.

Isabel dos Santos quit her post as a board member of Unitel in August 2020 but has kept her 25% share of the company via Vidatel up until now. Note that Ms dos Santos also owns a separate, Netherlands-registered telecoms holding company, Unitel International Holdings (UIH) which controls mobile operators in Cape Verde and Sao Tome & Principe as well as holding part of her stake in Portuguese operator Nos. In November 2020 Unitel (Angola) filed a lawsuit in a London court against UIH claiming GBP327 million (USD438 million) to recoup loans issued when dos Santos served as Unitel (Angola) chairperson; the loans were reportedly secured against share charges in Nos.

Angola, Unitel (Angola), Unitel International Holdings