‘Africa’s richest woman’ Isabel dos Santos protests Malta tax bill

Isabel dos Santos’s Malta company that collects consultancy fees from telecommunications empire told to pay €200,000 in outstanding tax

Isabel dos Santos
Isabel dos Santos

The Maltese commissioner for revenue has slapped a €191,000 tax bill on the company that collected consultancy fees on the TV-internet empire until recently controlled by Angolan billionaire Isabel dos Santos.

The tax investigation was launched soon after a data trove published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in January 2020. The exposé followed soon after an Angolan court froze her stake in mobile telecom firm Unitel and in several banks.

The daughter of Angola’s former long-time dictator built a billion-dollar empire through her control of strategic state assets. But after her father stepped down, an anti-corruption drive by Angola’s new president, João Lourenço, took Dos Santos head-on.

Two months into his tenure, Lourenço kicked off an anti-corruption drive that spread to Dos Santos’s holdings in Europe, chiefly Portugal.

Among her holdings, Dos Santos held some 14 companies in Malta alone, designed to minimise her tax exposure from profits remitted to the island. MaltaToday had revealed the extent of her Malta business network in 2015.

Now one of her consultancy firms – Kento Holding – is fighting a tax bill in Malta after having first attempted to claim a €99,000 VAT refund.

The Malta investigation by the Commissioner for Revenue (CFR) found that the company Kento Holding did not carry out any economic activity in Malta, and was not entitled in claiming a €99,000 VAT refund.

Kento Holding is a Maltese entity used to receive consultancy fees for services on acquisition and redistribution agreements for television channels. The company has a 70% stake in two significant subsidiaries, Upstar Comunicacoes of Portugla, and Mstar of Mozambique. The company is also a shareholder in ZOPT in Portugal, the main shareholding of NOS, Portugal’s $1.82 billion leader in the so-called ‘quad play’ market of internet, TV, fixed and mobile telephony.

Instead, the tax investigation revealed that the company owed the Exchequer a total of €191,176 in taxes.

The Compliance & Investigations Directorate’s investigation revealed that there was “no intention of carrying out any economic activity” in the country that would merit a VAT refund. It said that “it is highly unlikely that the company has real intentions of conducting an economic activity despite being registered since 1 September 2018, as no turnover was reported.”

The CFR also said the company had to pay over €38,000 in penalties apart from the tax it owed.

At the time of Kento’s activities, the Dos Santos holdings in Malta were managed by former Nationalist MP Noel Buttigieg Scicluna. He resigned his duties in January 2020.

In August 2020, Dos Santos lost joint control of NOS after her business partner, Sonaecom, announced an agreement to dissolve ZOPT, their 50-50 joint venture, which owned 52% of NOS shares. Dos Santos held her stake indirectly through Kento in Malta, and Dutch shell company Unitel International Holdings BV.

The dissolution came on the back of a Lisbon court order to freeze Dos Santos’s control, prompted by Angola’s attempts to recover an estimated $1 billion in public money it alleges dos Santos and her associates siphoned from the country during her father’s 38-year rule.