(Corrects to “Spanish lender” from “Portuguese lender” in paragraph 4)
LISBON, March 4 (Reuters) - Portugal’s judicial authorities are likely to freeze the revenue from the sale of Angolan businesswoman Isabel dos Santos’ 42.5% stake in EuroBic, the country’s central bank governor Carlos Costa said on Wednesday.
The small Portuguese lender came under the spotlight after documents dubbed the “Luanda Leaks” released by the International Consortium of Journalists (ICIJ) indicated Isabel dos Santos used the EuroBic account of Angolan state oil company Sonangol, of which she was chairwoman, to transfer at least $115 million in public funds to an offshore company in Dubai.
Isabel dos Santos denies any wrongdoing.
The bank said in January dos Santos would be removed from its shareholding structure, and Spanish lender Abanca said in February it would buy a 95% stake, including dos Santos’ shares.
Portuguese lawmakers called for Costa to appear in parliament on Wednesday to explain how the central bank would monitor the sale and, more broadly, the bank’s role in ensuring that private banks implement sound mechanisms to prevent money laundering.
Portuguese prosecutors froze dos Santos’ assets in the country on Feb. 11, following in the footsteps of Angola’s government which seized the accounts of the ex-first daughter, her husband Sindika Dokolo, and their business associate Mario Leite da Silva, late last year over allegations that they steered $1 billion to companies in which they held stakes.
“It is not our responsibility, nor is it in our power, to make a judgement over the arrest of the revenues from the sale [of dos Santos’ EuroBic stake],” Costa said.
“I believe judicial authorities will want to preserve the value of these shares and that the outcome of the transaction will be in the hands of judicial authorities,” he said.
The Bank of Portugal began an investigation into EuroBic, whose largest shareholder was Isabel dos Santos, in November 2019, before Angola’s government implemented the asset freeze.
“Even before the Luanda Leaks, we took action,” Costa said, replying to a left-wing MP who asked whether he thought Portugal was a “money laundering point for the Angolan kleptocracy”.
Revelations from the Luanda Leaks regarding the transfer to Dubai were added to the remit of the investigation, Costa said.
The governor emphasised that the transaction between Abanca and EuroBic’s shareholders must be approved by the European Central Bank (ECB) in conjunction with the Bank of Portugal, but said he would be surprised if it did not go through.
“We are dealing with a credible entity,” Costa said, referring to Abanca.
EuroBic employs 1,482 people and manages around 5.2 billion euros ($5.7 billion) in credit and 6.1 billion euros in deposits.
The announcement that dos Santos would sell her stake came soon after the ex-first daughter was named a formal suspect over alleged mismanagement and misappropriation of funds during her time as chairwoman of Sonangol. (Reporting by Sergio Goncalves and Victoria Waldersee; editing by David Evans)
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