President’s Three Henchmen Lead the Plunder of State Assets

In his latest report, “The Angolan Presidency: The Epicentre of Corruption”, Angolan journalist and human rights activist Rafael Marques de Morais focuses on the illicit business links of a powerful triumvirate of officials close to President José Eduardo dos Santos.
These officials are the head of the Military Bureau of the Presidency, the head of Telecommunications at the Presidency, and the CEO and chair of national oil company Sonangol, respectively General Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias Júnior “Kopelipa”, General Leopoldino Fragoso do Nascimento, and Manuel Vicente.
“Their dealings acknowledge no distinction between public and private affairs, and this has allowed them to channel millions of dollars worth of state assets into their own private businesses,” Marques de Morais says.

One of the tools used by these officials for their private operations, according to the report, is the power and the international reputation of Sonangol as well as their influence on the presidential decisions as the head of the executive, which approves all investments worth over US$5 million. Through their company Nazaki, the trio established a partnership with Sonangol and Cobalt, a US oil company listed in the New York Stock Exchange. This consortium holds the license to explore two deepwater oil blocks ( 9 and 21) in Angola, awarded by the executive without public tender.

With Sonangol and the Brazilian multinational Odebrecht, the group also formed a consortium, through their company Damer, for a US$ 272.3 million project for sugar, ethanol and biofuels production. This project was approved by the Council of Ministers.

The same individuals, according to the report, used senior military officials in the presidency as fronts for a company, Portmill, which paid US$ 375 million for the purchase of 24 percent of the shares in the Portuguese Banco Espírito Santo. The same company received 40 percent shares in the recently privatised mobile phone company Movicel. The report questions the origin of the incredible sum of money paid by the military officers, assigned to the presidential staff, to the Portuguese bank. It also raises the question of whether Banco Espírito Santo is willfully involved in laundering money either stolen from the state coffers or of obscure origin.

The author details how the Generals Kopelipa and Dino and Manuel Vicente also built a media empire to strategically control the private media sector, among other business interests.

“These officials break the laws with blatant impunity”, says Marques de Morais. He explains that “the law on the Crimes Committed by Public Office Bearers, in force since 1990, forbids public officials from engaging in business deals with the state or even private ones in which they have power of decision or influence, for personal benefit.”
The author further argues that while there is a growing pressure on governments and companies to be more transparent, with initiatives such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and Publish What You Pay, “in Angola, such safeguards exist only on paper and the same names of prominent officials and generals come up time and time again in their double life as the country’s political and business elite.”

Furthermore, according to Marques de Morais, “the complex web of political/military/economic power is lubricated by funds either plundered from the state or of obscure origin, and often in partnership with foreign companies and governments.”

Marques de Morais, who has been investigating corruption in his country for years, has little faith in the President’s public stand against corruption. “In reality, the zero tolerance policy against corruption, trumpeted by President Dos Santos, stands as a mere mask covering up the plunder of the country by his inner circle,” he says.

Some western governments, spearheaded by the United States, have been jostling for political influence and access to Angola’s oil and other riches, and have paid lip service to the need for good governance in the country. On July 8, 2010 the US and Angola signed a Strategic Partnership Dialogue to increase “energy, security, trade and democracy promotion”, according to the State Department.

Meanwhile, other major economic players in Angola, such as China, Brazil and Portugal fuel outright corruption through oil-backed loans and opaque economic bilateral agreements. This ensures that nothing much changes in the oil- and resource-rich southern African country, except that the sums of money involved get bigger and bigger.
“The spoils of power in Angola are shared by the few, while the many remain poor,” Marques de Morais concludes.