Illegal Visas Worth More Than US $90 Million
Within a year, senior staff at the Angolan Office for Immigration and Foreigners (known by the Portuguese acronym SME) issued more than 14,000 work visas, at a unit cost of between US$5,000 and US$15,000, with absolutely no revenue entering state coffers.
The operation has earned over US$90 million for the corrupt officials and nothing for the State. This information is part of an audit of the SME conducted by the Inspectorate of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), and delivered to the Minister of the Interior on February 6 past. Maka Angola saw the report.
The investigation was opened on the November 6, 2013, by order of the Minister of the Interior, Ângelo de Barros Veiga Tavares, and its aim was to verify “how certain decisions were taken by the Ministry of the Interior, with regard to correcting irregularities, flaws and anomalies noticed in the investigation into the Office for Immigration and Foreigners, undertaken by the Inspector General, in November 2012”. What the inspectors from MININT discovered in the SME was nothing short of wholesale corruption, not to mention absurd spending.
Ringleaders and Accomplices
The national director of the SME, José Paulino da Silva, and his deputy, Eduardo João de Sousa Santos, are singled out as the ringleaders of the network involved in fraudulently issuing work visas to thousands of foreign nationals, according to the referred report compiled by the Office of the Inspectorate of the MININT.
Within the inner circle of the corrupt network, inspectors also identified 14 employees, including the secretary and the personal assistant of the SME national director, Teresa Ermelinda and Nelson Conceição, as well as the secretary and personal assistant of the deputy national director, Emanuela Sebastião and Francisco Aleixo. The heads of the Department for Foreign Nationals, and the Department of Documentation, Registration and Records, respectively Gilberto Teixeira Manuel and Teixeira da Silva Adão, are also named as participants in the corrupt scheme.
According to the report:
“Some SME employees have been identified by foreign nationals as facilitators for certain legal procedures and for issuing a range of shady immigration documents, especially work visas, and in turn are compensated to the value of between US$5,000 and US$15,000 for every work visa issued.”
As an example, inspectors refer to the case where visas were issued within a period of just six hours, on November 12, 2013:
“In record time, the application process was completed and 48 work visas were
issued. The irregular processes, concerning 28 Chinese nationals and 20 Vietnamese
nationals, were personally delivered by the national director of the SME to the head
of the Department for Foreign Nationals, Gilberto Manuel Teixeira”.
Gilberto Teixeira Manuel is also accused of being in league with the head of the Department of Documentation, Registration and Records, Teixeira da Silva Adão, through being personally involved in receiving applications, completing legal procedures and issuing irregular visas and residency permits. According to the inspection report, documents are issued “without being processed at all, or without the correct documentation, and without the relevant fees paid”.
On November 13, 2013, Gilberto Teixeira Manuel processed other 56 work visa applications, 23 of which were for Chinese nationals and the other 23 for Vietnamese nationals. Mr Teixeira Manuel is also accused of illegally overturning decisions to refuse entry to certain individuals.
Another example mentioned in the report is that of 90 applications received by the SME on November 22, 2013, which Gilberto Teixeira Manuel was unable to locate.
After he had read the report, the Minister of the Interior announced that local SME management was suspended from receiving, processing or issuing work visas. In spite of this, during the week of the November 22 to 29, 2013, José Paulino da Silva and Eduardo João de Sousa Santos’s corrupt network received and processed 440 applications for work visas and residency permits.
Bonanza in the Visa Scheme
Due to director José Paulino da Silva’s lack of accountability, 17,756 work visas were issued fraudulently between October 2012 and October 2013 alone, without any immigration fees or repatriation security bonds being paid. In addition to this, the inspectors discovered that the work visa and residency permit applications were not made through the standard reception desk set up for that purpose.
In order to facilitate the scheme, José Paulino da Silva set up five parallel channels to process and issue visas. The five people in charge of these desks are himself, the national deputy director, the head of the Department of Foreign Nationals, the head of the Department of Documentation, Registration and Records and the Administration Service. Immigration applications handled by these five desks are given special treatment and priority over all other applications using the proper channels.
“Once these applications are processed and issued, the visas are removed from normal circulation with absolutely no paper trail, and kept under the watchful eyes of the employees involved in the scheme, and as soon as the national director authorises the visa, these employees take the relevant passports to the authorisation office, where they are kept until the visas are stamped” reads the investigative report.
In order to process work permits, the SME uses a secure, efficient computer program that has various types of alerts installed to complete the visa application process. For example, a red alert signifies that the application has been rejected by the analyst; white means that the application has been approved; dark blue means the application is urgent, etc. There are other colour codes and variations to further enhance the process and to ensure efficient processing of visa applications.
However, José Paulino da Silva has consistently ignored the stringent computer programs designed for granting visas.
“Of the 17,756 work permits issued between October 2012 and October 2013, 1,442 visas have no record of the applicant having entered the country prior to the visa being issued, which means that the visa was granted through the passport being sent from the country of origin or residence of the applicant”, deduce the inspectors. In addition to this, the inspectors noted that, for the 17,756 recipients of work permits, only 5,221 bills for the repatriation security bond were issued, of which only 4,473 were paid.
Basic reasoning: of the almost 18,000 foreigners who were granted work visas by the SME, almost 14,000 visas, mentioned at the beginning of the article, made absolutely no contribution to state coffers. Instead, at least US$90 million went into the parallel, illicit scheme developed by José Paulino da Silva and his closest collaborators.
Contrary to the statement he gave to Jornal de Angola, José Paulino da Silva is himself one of the most active facilitators of illegal immigration. Inspectors were able to identify several cases in which the director of the SME gave himself the task of issuing illegal work visas.
Unpronounceable Religious Sects
In an interview that Jornal de Angola published on February 28, José Paulino da Silva pointed to religious sects for the increase in illegal immigration in the country.
“The great proliferation of religious sects is responsible for changes to our lifestyles. Some of these churches are facilitating illegal immigration”, he said.
José Paulino da Silva does not name the religious sects who are said to be encouraging illegal immigration, stating that their names are unpronounceable. “There are signs of some, but I find their names difficult to pronounce. But many of them are branches of the Pentecostal Church. It is well known that many of the people in charge of those churches have been harbouring illegal immigrants”.
It is serious, very serious indeed, when the highest authority of the Office for Immigration and Foreigners declares himself incapable of pronouncing the names of the religious sects he accuses of participating in activities against the national interest.
The accusation José Paulino da Silva levels against religious sects needs to be proven, in the same way the investigation into his department revealed him to be an active instigator of illegal immigration.
In the same interview given to Jornal de Angola, the SME director pretended to have no knowledge of the reality which is glaringly obvious: corruption. “It is difficult for us to take disciplinary action against employees without proof”.
Insubordination and mismanagement
Inspectors found obvious signs of mismanagement of funds equivalent to 70% of immigration fees, as well as interest accruing from the investment of part of the income from repatriation bonds. With regard to the granting of work visas, inspectors were able to prove widespread, total anarchy. “There are irregularities within the domains of reception, legal processing, granting and delivery of work visas, in violation of the Law on Foreign Nationals in the Republic of Angola, which determines that work visas are granted through diplomatic and consular missions”, explains the report seen by Maka Angola.
According to the legal provision referred to, the Minister of the Interior may authorise work visas to be granted locally where it can be shown to be in the national interest, at the proposal of the SME director. In such cases, positive approval needs to be obtained from the Ministry of the Civil Service, Employment and Social Security.
However, this legal provision is systematically violated within José Paulino da Silva’s department. The director and some of his subordinates issue work visas without the authorisation of the Minister of the Interior.
“From being the exception, granting work visas locally has become the rule”, states the report.
The current Minister of the Interior has lost all authority over the SME director. According to the report, “During the month of June 2013, His Excellency the Minister of the Interior rejected seven work visa applications made by the ImporÁfrica company, but with total disregard for the said ruling, the national director of the SME went ahead and authorised the granting of those particular work visas”.
José Paulino da Silva’s biography on the SME website shows that he was a consultant for ImporÁfrica.
Besides the corrupt handling of work and residency visas, there is also the issue of inappropriate spending within the SME.
During the month of December 2012, the SME withdrew 750 million Kwanzas (US$750,000) from its account in BESA bank. The money was used as a Christmas bonus. This money was withdrawn on condition that it would be repaid as soon as incoming revenue allowed.
But as of December 2013, José Paulino da Silva and his team had still not repaid the money. In the report they submitted to minister Ângelo Tavares, the inspectors from MININT highlighted the fact that the Christmas bonus had no legal basis. For this reason, the inspectors suggested that José Paulino da Silva and his accomplices ought to be compelled to return the public funds.