Portuguese court rules against dos Santos over tweets she calls slander

LISBON (Reuters) – Citing freedom of expression, a Lisbon court has ruled against Isabel dos Santos, the billionaire daughter of Angola’s former president, who had demanded the removal of several tweets by a long-time Portuguese critic accusing her of money-laundering.

Isabel dos Santos speaks during a Reuters Newsmaker event in London, Britain, October 18, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Thursday’s ruling, which Reuters saw on Friday, said the decision did not mean the court agreed with the tweets’ content and did not call into question dos Santos’ presumption of innocence. However it denied dos Santos’ request for the removal of the posts and payment of damages.

She had called the posts slanderous in her lawsuit.

“Freedom of expression and information shall take precedence” over dos Santos’ personality rights, or reputation and good name, the court said.

A spokeswoman for dos Santos told Reuters the businesswoman considered that the court decision “valued the right to freedom of expression in detriment of the right to defend her good name”. She did not say if dos Santos would appeal.

Angolan authorities froze dos Santos’ assets in the African country in late December following allegations by prosecutors that she and her husband had steered payments of more than $1 billion from state companies Sonangol and Sodiam to firms in which they held stakes. Dos Santos and her husband have denied any wrongdoing.

The tweets in question dated back to October when Ana Gomes, a Portuguese former European Parliament member and ex-senior member of a European Parliament group looking into corruption and organised crime, made six posts on Twitter about dos Santos.

They followed an interview by dos Santos to news agency Lusa in which she said she was heavily indebted due to her investments.

“Isabel dos Santos is very indebted because, when settling her debts, she launders big time!” said one of Gomes’ tweets, cited in the court’s ruling. In another tweet cited by the court, Gomes said dos Santos laundered Angolan money through small local lender Eurobic, in which she is the main shareholder, and through other investments in Portugal.

The court ruled that Gomes was “not required to completely prove the truth of the facts”, but her own professional knowledge, research and familiarity with various investigative articles were enough to give the tweets sufficient plausibility.

Reuters exclusively reported this week that Portugal’s central bank is carrying out an inspection of Eurobic to assess its procedures against money laundering. [nL8N29K5ZB]

Eurobic said it was complying with all requirements to prevent illegal transactions and that it saw the inspection as “part of the normal supervision process” in the banking sector.

Reporting by Catarina Demony and Sergio Goncalves; Editing by Frances Kerry

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