On 20 December 2023, Mr Justice Bright handed down judgment in Unitel S.A v Isabel Dos Santos [2023] EWHC 3231 (Comm), granting a worldwide freezing order against the former President of Angola’s daughter, African businesswoman Isabel Dos Santos.

Paul Sinclair KC and Christopher Knowles acted for the successful applicant, Unitel S.A.

The dispute arose out of seven loans which Unitel, an Angolan telecoms company, made when Ms Dos Santos was a director of it, to a company she owned, UIH, in amounts totalling EUR322,979,711 and USD$43,000,000, and which UIH has not repaid. Unitel alleged that the loans were uncommercial and Ms Dos Santos had procured them to benefit herself, in breach of her duties as a director. Ms Dos Santos denies that, and the substantive claim is ongoing.

Unitel argued that:

  • It had a good arguable case that Ms Dos Santos had, by the loans, misappropriated vast sums of money from Unitel in breach of her directors’ duties.
  • There was a real risk that unless restrained Ms Dos Santos would dissipate assets to frustrate a judgment against her. That was especially true given the nature of the wrongdoing alleged against her, past breaches of BVI court orders, including a freezing order, by a company under her control, and findings of fraud, forgery, and other wrongdoing against her in other proceedings. That the order was sought on notice, and the hearing of it was delayed, did not undermine that.
  • That Ms Dos Santos was subject to other freezing orders in other jurisdictions, and obtained by other parties, did not stop it being just and convenient to grant the worldwide freezing order sought.

Granting the order sought, Mr Justice Bright held that, in summary:

  • Unitel did have a good arguable case on the merits, despite Ms. Dos Santos’s arguments that the claim against her was time-barred in Angolan law. That was true whether the test was the traditional test set out in The Niedersachsen, requiring more than arguability but not more than a 50% chance of success, or the test in recent authorities on jurisdiction requiring the better of the argument if the judge can reliably form a view on who has that, or else a plausible evidential basis, though he considered the former (argued for by Unitel) to be the better approach.
  • There was indeed a real risk of dissipation, given the nature of the wrongdoing which there was a good arguable case Ms. Dos Santos had carried out, and fraud and forgery which it had been found, in other proceedings, she had brought about. Her arguments to the effect that the freezing order application had been on foot for a long time, and she had not dissipated her assets did not (even if true; the lack of dissipation was in part unsubstantiated) help her.
  • The other freezing orders were beside the point. They were (save for two exceptions, capturing only limited assets) obtained by others, in support of other proceedings, and at least some of them would not necessarily remain in force.

The judgment can be found here.