Hotel Talatona and the Scavangeing of Sonangol

The Talatona Convention Centre (CCTA) is one example of the large-scale investments that Sonangol, the state oil company, has been making in Angola in order to diversify its activity beyond the petroleum sector. At a cost of $149.1 million, the centre includes a five-star hotel called the Tatalona Convention Hotel (HCTA), which was opened on 18 December 2009 by president José Eduardo dos Santos.

Sonangol’s investments outside of the oil sector have served as the most effective mean to divert hundreds of millions in public funds to an inner circle of senior government officials and company directors. CCTA is only one of these schemes.

On 8 November 2006, Sonangol set up CCTA in partnership with the Angolan private companies Simaroco and Oil International Supply Services S.A. (OISS). This happened six months after the opening of the $60 million convention centre by the then vice-president Fernando Dias dos Santos. On the day of the opening, CCTA was presented as “a partnership between Sonangol, the government and a Chinese entrepreneur,” according to the state news agency, Angop.

Three years later, when president Dos Santos officially opened the hotel, the then chairman of the board of Sonangol, Manuel Vicente, presented the project as an investment entirely by Sonangol, and there was no public mention of other partners. For the construction of the hotel, Sonangol paid an additional US $89.6 milion.

However, Simaroco holds 51 per cent of CCTA’s shares, while Sonangol has only 30 per cent and OISS the remaining 19 per cent. Simaroco Participações Lda is a company set up on 20 June 2005 by José Carlos de Castro Paiva who, for the past 25 years, is the chairman of Sonangol Limited (London). He also chairs the board of the Banco Africano de Investimentos (BAI) as the representative of Sonangol, the main shareholder.

OISS’s known sharesholders are the lawyer Domingos de Assunção de Sousa de Lima Viegas and the economist Alberto Cardoso Severino Pereira, the latter being Sonangol’s former finance director. At the time when CCTA was set up, in 2006, Domingos Lima Viegas was working for Sonangol to help restructure its access to financial markets outside the oil sector, and he was also Sonangol’s representative on the auditing committee of BAI. Viegas previously worked as a legal counselor for the Petroleum Ministry and for Sonangol.

In other words, the establishment of CCTA has involved the transfer of assets that were originally held by Sonangol and thus by the state, into private hands. In other words, the establishment of CCTA has involved the transfer of assets that were originally held by Sonangol and thus by the state, into private hands. The then chairman of Sonangol and current Minister of State for Economic Co-ordination, Manuel Vicente, is responsible in civil and criminal law for this illegal transfer of state assets. He incurs in crimes of embezzlement as defined by Article 313 of the Penal Code, whether through benefiting directly or by allowing third parties to take control of such huge sums invested by Sonangol, in the form of 70 per cent of the ownership of a state enterprise. António Francisco Sabalo, the representative of Sonangol who initialled the terms of the deal, would also be responsible but he has passed away. In the same way, Paiva as a senior official of Sonangol committed the same crime through the illegal appropriation of state patrimony, in the form of 51 percent of the deal.

Alberto Cardoso Severino Pereira and Domingos de Lima Viegas must also answer for the crime of active corruption of public officials, as established by the Penal Code, for soliciting the theft of state assets. It defies comprehension that OISS holds 19 per cent of CCTA’s shares without having invested one cent in the business. These two men have for many years been known to be close to Manuel Vicente and his private business affairs. This closeness became obvious once again in 2009 when Vicente, at the time the chair of Sonangol, appointed Pereira as a member of the audit committee of Sonangol Holdings, a subsidiary of the publicly-owned Sonangol. According to the Law of Public Probity, a member of the audit committee of a publicly-owned company such as Sonangol Holdings is a public servant and as such may not become involved in business dealings with the state. Pereira is simultaneously both a private shareholder and a public servant of Sonangol.

The Penal Code provides for prison sentences of two to eight years among other possible penalties for this kind of corruption cases. It also orders that assets and money acquired in such cases of corruption be returned to the state.

The attorney general should open an inquiry into the ownership of CCTA. It should investigate Sonangol officials, Manuel Vicente and José Carlos de Castro Paiva, for crimes of embezzlement and money laundering.