Legal Doubts Over Thales’ Angola Deal

The head of the Angolan state oil company and the country’s ambassador to France have entered into a multi-million euro partnership with the French defense company Thales to supply communications equipment to the Angolan military. Angolan anti-corruption legislation appears to prohibit the two officials’ participation in the deal.

In January 2009, the Council of Ministers of Angola awarded two contracts, worth a total of 141,6 million Euros, to a joint venture between the Thales Group and a shell Angolan company, Sadissa, for the supply of a new system of communications to the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA). Thales was previously implicated in the corruption case that lead to the conviction in 2005 of a South African businessman Schabir Shaik, on charges that included soliciting a bribe from Thales on behalf of the then South African Deputy President, and now President, Jacob Zuma.

The Angolan contracts, with the official references 38/DM/03/SST/08 and 39/DEM03/SST/08, were undersigned on behalf of the army by Simportex, a private company owned by the FAA. Simportex is responsible for importing material for the armed forces. The contracts raise serious legal and ethical concerns.

Sadissa was founded on April 1 2003 by Manuel Vicente, CEO of the National Oil Company Sonangol, and the current Angolan ambassador to France, Miguel da Costa. Sadissa was set up to undertake a range of business interests including general trading, telecommunications, consulting, tourism, and travel. Vicente and Da Costa co-own Sadissa and both sit on its board. The other minor partners in the company are the ambassador’s son, Wilson Miguel da Costa; Anabela Chissende who represents her husband, General Adriano Makevela Mackenzie, the head of military training at the joint chiefs of staff of FAA; and Catarina Marques Pereira, who represents the Angolan state’s shareholding position at Lusó- Sociedade Mineira do Camatchia-Camagico as its deputy-chairman of the board of directors.

The director of the Angolan Armed Forces’ company, Simportex, General João Pedro Cavunga, said of the deal: “We are a military company, and as such we are not allowed to disclose information of military nature.” In a telephone conversation to clarify the nature of the relationship between the French multinational and the Angolan officials, the press assistant of the Thales Group, Marjorie Lauger, said she had “no idea about the issue.” She took notes of the author’s contact details as well as questions on the direct negotiations with Ambassador Miguel da Costa, to forward it to the head of the press office. Marjorie Lauger promised that her boss would return the call with answers, but this never happened.

According to the CEO of Sadissa, José Alberto Puna Zau, Thales supplies equipment to the FAA, while the Angolan side installs them and provides for their maintenance. Puna Zau, who is a former minister of Public Works, stressed the difficulties in gaining the approval of the deal by the Council of Ministers, since a sector of the government opposed it. The CEO of Sadissa explained how he had to engage beforehand with key government officials to win their support to secure the contract. “I had to speak to the ministers of Defense, Interior and War Veterans. It was on the intervention of the Minister of Defense, Kundi Payhama, [at a session of the Council of Ministers] that the President [of the Republic] gave orders for us [Thales/ Sadissa] to be left in peace”, he said.

The conflation of public duties and private interests of Sadissa’s co-owners contravenes the Angolan anti-corruption laws.

In the case of Sonangol’s CEO, Manuel Vicente, the Law n° 10/89, on the Disciplinary Regime of the Public Manager, prohibits the engagement of a manager of a public company in “the undertaking of other duties that involve the representation of private interests, of self or on behalf of others in the management of any other company.”

Angolan Law n° 21/90, known as the Law on the Crimes Committed by High Office Holders, forbids government officials to profit from business contracts with the state, for personal gains. As an ambassador, Miguel da Costa, who has maintained high-level contacts with Thales on the deal, falls under this law.

However, Puna Zau defended the formation of Sadissa, which became operational in 2006, as a philanthropic initiative of its co-owners. He stressed that “this project [Sadissa] is a kind of an NGO to help the comrade freedom fighters.” “Many of these elder freedom fighters were living in squalor and were abandoned”, said the manager who claimed that his company has already identified 20 war veterans who will reap benefits from the company.

The Deal

According to a statement issued by the government at the time, the contracts aim at the acquisition of a tactical system of communications to strengthen the army’s co-ordination of troops, as part of the process of restructuring the FAA. The government also stated, in the same document, that the contract would enable the setting up of a “central infrastructure of communications to be shared by all the defense and security agencies, in the country, for greater reliability and security.”

A press release by the Thales Group, dated April 9 2009, announced the signature of the contract with the FAA for the supply of “an innovative Mobile Radio Communication Network”, and stressed that it will be operational “for the occasion of the 2010 African Cup of Nations” to be held in Angola in January. The document omitted any reference to Thales’ joint bid with Sadissa, and only indicated that the communications network, to be managed by FAA, will be shared by four Angolan agencies.

The Thales Group, which operates in more than 50 countries, is a “global technology leader for the aerospace, space, defense, security and transportation markets”, according to its website, partly controlled by the French State and the French Dassault Aviation, which hold 27 percent e 26 percent of the shares, respectively.