AFRICANGLOBE – The daughter of Angola’s president accused Portugal’s government on Tuesday of making an “unprecedented and clearly partial” decision in changing a law on shareholder voting rights that helped Spain’s Caixabank make a bid for Banco BPI this week.
Angolan investor Isabel dos Santos has systematically opposed attempts by BPI’s largest shareholder Caixabank to take control of the bank and thereby reduce her influence at Portugal’s second largest listed bank.
One analyst said the statement may suggest dos Santos is preparing to challenge the change in the law in court, potentially derailing Caixabank’s takeover offer for the 56 percent of BPI it does not already own. “The risk of a legal battle exists, but we have to wait for what Isabel dos Santos will do,” said Albino Oliveira, analyst at brokerage Patris.
The decision by Portugal’s government to eliminate shareholder voting right limits was announced on Sunday, a few hours after negotiations between Caixabank and dos Santos collapsed. On Monday morning Caixabank launched a bid for BPI.
The decision “was historically unprecedented and clearly partial … it favoured one of the parties at a time when they were in the middle of negotiations,” dos Santos’ holding company Santoro Finance said in a statement. The government was not immediately available to comment.
A change in the law directed just at BPI could face legal hurdles under Portugal’s constitution. Prime Minister Antonio Costa said on Monday the change applied to eight Portuguese banks.
Angola, a former Portuguese colony, has made several large investments in Portugal in recent years, especially during Lisbon’s debt crisis. Dos Santos, who is one of Africa’s richest woman, also shares control of Portugal’s second largest phone company, NOS.
Caixabank and dos Santos started talks several weeks ago to try to reach agreement on their holdings in BPI, including the sale of BPI’s 50.1 percent stake in Angolan bank BFA to dos Santos. But the talks collapsed and BPI said dos Santos had disrespected the agreement.
Santoro said in the statement the agreement with Caixabank was never finalised. “And, as it was never finalised, it is false that Santoro broke any agreement,” it said.
Costa said on Monday he hoped the conditions were now in place for the European Central Bank to accept that BPI was working to reduce its stake in BFA.
Caixabank has been prevented from exercising its full 44 percent holding in BPI under the previous shareholder law, which limited it to only 20 percent, virtually the same as dos Santos’ stake in BPI of 18.6 percent. That has allowed her to oppose previous takeover bids.
BPI is also facing troubles due to its business in Angola because of a change in European rules on exposure to the African country. BPI said on Tuesday it was in contact with the European Central Bank about the exposure, which could lead to daily fines of up to 162,000 euros.
An agreement between Caixabank and dos Santos would have resolved the Angola issue if Unitel, an Angolan telecom jointly controlled by her and state oil company Sonangol, would have bought BPI’s stake in BFA. Unitel owns the other 49.9 percent stake in BFA.
By: Axel Bugge And Sergio Goncalves