Lawsuits fly in each direction over Unitel ownership
The local shareholders of Angolan mobile market leader Unitel filed a lawsuit at a Luanda court on 12 October against PT Ventures, a subsidiary of Brazilian telco Oi possessing 25% of Unitel’s shares, reports Portuguese newspaper Jornal de Negocios. The plaintiffs – which include companies backed by billionaire businesswoman Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of Angolan president Jose Eduardo dos Santos – are alleging breaches of Unitel’s shareholder agreement and Angola’s Companies Act due to a May 2014 transaction wherein Portugal Telecom transferred its 75% stake in PT Ventures’ parent company Africatel Holdings to Oi.
The legal action claims that under the agreement and Angolan law, the right of first refusal on the PT Ventures stake should have been offered to fellow Unitel shareholders. The move comes after PT Ventures lost its management rights at Cape Verdean telco CVT via a court decision in that country in March this year, stemming from a similar complaint of ‘violation’ of shareholders’ rights as a result of Oi’s purchase of Portugal Telecom’s Africatel stake. Furthermore, Jornal de Negocios adds that Samba Luxco, the owner of the other 25% in Netherlands-registered Africatel, has also put forward a claim against PT Ventures at the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in Paris, similarly alleging a breach of shareholders’ rights including first refusal.
Simultaneously, Oi has launched its own legal action against Unitel, demanding payment of EUR240 million (USD273 million) in dividend arrears for 2010, 2011 and 2012, Portuguese news site Economico reports. According to an Oi spokesperson, the group’s PT Ventures subsidiary was forced to take legal action to ensure its shareholder rights at Unitel, and to ‘preserve legal certainty and to keep investors committed to the best corporate governance practices’. The same source claimed that Oi had not been informed about the lawsuit launched against it in Angola by its local investment partners in Unitel, while adding that PT Ventures believes that it has not violated the laws of Angola or investor rights and remains open to a constructive dialogue with Unitel and its shareholders.