Presidential Guards at the Service of Private Business

The trial of 15 Angolan presidential guards, accused in connection with a petition in which they demanded better salaries and working conditions, has drawn attention to a web of corrupt practices in which military officers set up private business with state funds as their capital, and using soldiers as their labourers.

The guards on trial are members of the Central Protection and Security Unit (DCPS), a unit that was set up in 2004 under the auspices of the Military Bureau of the Angolan Presidency. Its supposed function was to protect infrastructure rehabilitation projects throughout Angola, as part of the National Reconstruction Office (GRN) that was attached to the Military Bureau under the leadership of General Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias “Kopelipa”. The DCPS was meant to protect the Chinese companies and workers who were involved in the projects. These projects have been worth more than US$10 billion, financed by the Chinese government in exchange for Angolan oil.

Yet the DCPS, with a force of 2,053 soldiers, has never been legally constituted in the legislation governing the Military Bureau (Presidential Decree 181/10 of 2010), even though it relies on soldiers from the UGP. Under the command of Lieutenant-General Jesus M. C. Manuel, who is also the executive secretary of the Military Bureau, the DCPS is based at Viana at the premises of the China International Fund (CIF).

According to one officer of the unit, the soldiers cannot hoist the Angolan flag there because this would mean taking down the Chinese flag. The officer also said that the soldiers stationed there had been on parade only twice in the course of several years. “There is no longer even any need for us to go on parade,” he said.

In January, the head of the Personnel Bureau at UGP, Colonel Henriques Chilembo Alfredo, told the Military Judicial Police that the UGP has no control over staff attached to the DCPS, and referred the case to the secretary general of the Military Bureau in the Presidency, Lieutenant General Luís Simão Ernesto, for clarification.

In February, during the course of the investigation, the head of the Financial Administration Department at DCPS, Major Domingos António, acknowledged that the soldiers’ salary claims date back to the foundation of the unit about eight years ago. He said that General Kopelipa, Minister of State and Head of the Military Bureau, knew about the case and had ordered that the way to settle the soldiers’ claims was by handing responsibility for them to the Army Chief of Staff.

The major also revealed that more than half of the DCPS, namely the 1,620 soldiers trained by the UGP, are paid by that unit. The soldiers initially received a monthly stipend of US$100 from China-Africa, which is another name used by the China International Fund.

The soldiers who brought the petition say that their counterparts in the UGP earn more than 100,000 kwanzas (US$1,000) per month, while those transferred to the DCPS get between 28,000 and 34,000 kwanzas (US$280 and US$340, respectively). The soldiers are also unhappy with the fact that their wages are not paid through a bank, as is normal practice in the public service. They say they do not even receive salary slips that would make clear what is their basic salary and whether any deductions have been made. “We don’t even sign a paper when we receive our wages,” one of the accused said.

The unusual status of the DCPS has allowed it to be used more as a private security company for the businesses run by the Military Bureau’s generals than for the service of the Presidency. While the soldiers are complaining that they are inadequately fed at the base and that their new uniforms disappeared before they were distributed to them, the head of the DCPS Administration and Finance Department, Major Domingos António, has acquired a fleet of top-of-the-range cars, including the most recent models from BMW, Cadillac Escalade, GMC Yukon, Hummer, Range Rover “Tubarão”, Toyota Tundra and VX V8. Domingos António, who also owns the football club Domant FC, boasted in a recent interview with an Angolan sports newspaper that anybody who follows Angolan football will “know that Domant FC has no difficulties as far as finance is concerned.”

Under the Domant brand, which takes its name from the first syllables of his names, Domingos António is also creating a business network. He has a vehicle import business with an outlet next to the Cidadela Stadium, established with Lebanese partners. He has created a financial mechanism whereby he gives credit to certain officers in the unit when they buy cars and have the payments deducted from their salaries.

In Cacuaco, on the outskirts of Luanda, the major owns a private school, Colégio Domant. The soldiers wonder how the major managed to build such a large building on a modest military salary. In a letter sent in May to the Military Attorney, General Hélder Pitra Grós, the soldiers complained that “our commanders are using our money to set up businesses.”

The soldiers also feel they are working for private projects. Trucks with permits from the Military Bureau, carrying soil excavated during construction work at the new Luanda International Airport, have to be allowed to enter the base, on behalf of a business that involves the DCPS commander Lieutenant-General Jesus Manuel and the private company Mopic.

Private newspapers in Angola have over the last few years reported on the alleged secret dealing of diamonds on the airport site by Chinese and Angolan officials. Some soldiers involved in the project have confirmed that for some time the DCPS has overseen and protected the transport of gravel from the airport building site to the Port of Luanda, from where it is shipped to China.

Soldiers have also been put in charge of security at the construction site of a large four-star hotel at KM 34 in Viana, which also belongs to Jesus Manuel. The hotel is being built by a Chinese company, and the work is supposedly part of the national reconstruction projects that use state resources.

In their letter to the Military Attorney, the soldiers accuse Jesus Manuel of having promoted his sons, Mário and Macedo de Jesus da Conceição Manuel, to the ranks of lieutenant and sub-lieutenant without them ever having been put though military training. “The business of recruiting civilians” at the unit is one of the recurrent corrupt practices that the soldiers have complained about. “From the military point of view, the recruitment of civilians into the army without proper military training demotivates the troops and carries certain risks,” an Angolan Armed Forces official said on condition of anonymity.

The list of businesses owned by Military Bureau generals is too long to include here. Kopelipa himself owns the 134-room Viana Hotel next to the Catete Road at KM 27. The hotel was built on land confiscated from farmers as a State Reserve, and the construction work also used state resources, including protection by DCPS soldiers.

The examples given here are just to illustrate how placing a presidential military unit on the premises of a Chinese company undermines the principle of national sovereignty. These examples also show how corruption is a cancer at the heart of the presidential guard, thanks to a level of institutional disorganisation that allows the existence of a phantom military unit.