Methodist Corruption: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves
The Methodist University of Angola (MUA) is in disarray amid allegations of corruption at the highest levels leading to calls from the United Methodist Church for a thorough audit and a full investigation. There are also demands that certain members of the Board of Directors to be replaced and that the Church take responsibility for bank debts of US $21 million.
The private sector university, designed to serve an estimated 9,000 students, is at the centre of a dispute between the Church and its main commercial partner, the Portuguese company LisTorres, which controls 57% of MUA stock through two Angolan subsidiaries, Turpolis and Imolis.
According to the published accounts prepared by the MUA’s Board of Directors, the institution has turned a profit of US $16 million over its eight-year existence, with a total income of US $112 million and costs of US $95.3 million. Now, however, LisTorres is said to be demanding US$25 million to give up its interest in the university. Written correspondence between the concerned parties refers to an offer of US $19 million dollars from an un-named benefactor (alleged to be none other than President José Eduardo dos Santos), described as “a special donation” to the Church for the buy-out of LisTorres.
As ye sow, so shall ye reap
It was in February 2006 that the United Methodist Church (UMC) and the proposed Methodist University of Angola (represented respectively by Bishop Gaspar João Domingos for the UMC and the President of the MUA’s Board of Directors, Portuguese businessman Vasco António Pires Duarte) signed an investment agreement to create the MUA. The agreement stipulated that no dividends would be issued in the first ten years; instead, all the revenue generated in that time would be used to grow the asset.
The university agreed to build one more campus within the ten year period with a US$ 20 million investment. If this were not done, then the United Methodist Church would have the right to “demand” that the funds generated be applied to what had been stipulated “without there being a distribution of the dividends.”
Vasco António Pires Duarte, who is chair of the MUA Board of Directors, is listed as owning 68% of the capital of LisTorres, the major shareholder of the university. A second Portuguese citizen, also MUA director, Maria Helena Rosa Lopes Pinto Dória, is listed as owning 29% of LisTorres. These Portuguese partners also own an offshore company named VHPD (which stands for Vasco, Helena, Pedro and Dória). Formally, LisTorres owns 80% of Imolis while Domingas João Tito (who acts a front person for various projects) has 15% and VHPD International has 5%. Maria Helena’s son, Luís Miguel Lopes Dória, is a deputy chair of the Board of Directors of LisTorres and chair of LisTorres shareholders’ General Assembly.
These Portuguese commercial partners, through a series of companies in which they hold an interest, obtained various contracts to provide services including the construction of buildings, through which they have earned millions of dollars in the intervening years. A church source told Maka Angola: “We discovered that there were 27 companies linked to Pires Duarte giving services to the University. The funds were channelled out through his LisTorres company in Portugal.”
What the left hand giveth, the right hand taketh away
LisTorres (or the Lis Group, as it is also known) is indirectly the majority shareholder in the Methodist University of Angola through its Angolan subsidiaries: Turpolis, a real estate and tourism business which owns 37% of the stock; and Imolis, a real estate and public works company which owns 20%. LisTorres’ chair and commercial director, Portuguese businessman Vasco António Pires Duarte is both a partner and manager of Turpolis (a real estate and tourism business).
He is also on the board of directors of Imofundo which issued a US $21 million dollar loan to the Methodist church. In addition, he is chair of the board of directors of yet another company SID, which has been selling real estate to the Methodist University of Angola.
The balance sheet showing “use of the money from the Methodist University of Angola from 2006 to 2014” offers some idea as to the extent of the profits to companies linked to Pires Duarte from their relationship with the university. Turpolis made US$ 25 million from services. In turn, SID made US$ 12 million from the sale of real estate.
The SID management wrote to Bishop Gaspar Domingos on July 11, 2011 saying it hoped to sell four structures in Cacuaco for the extension of the university. “We believe that, based on the Methodist University of Angola and SID having shareholders in common, as well as the overwhelming interest that the public has in the project, we are prepared to sell to the university four buildings with a 10% discount; that is, selling them at US $11,435, 220 as stated in the detailed proposal in the attached document,” reads the correspondence. The transaction was authorized by Bishop Gaspar Domingos himself.
Methodist Church leaders say this amounted to a “game of doubles” and that ” they [the Portuguese partners, including Pires Duarte] always used these double personalities.” “Millenium Bank issued a loan of US$ 12 million to buy the buildings which SID (Pires Duarte) was selling for the campus for health and sports” says a source from the bishop’s office. “However, these buildings were at the same time offered as collateral in the name of SID. The buy-sell contract is between Millenium and SID. There is no buy-sell contract with the university.”
Maka Angola had access to the contract between Millenium Bank Angola and the Methodist University of Angola. Members of the board of directors – Vasco Antonio Pires Duarte, Maria Helena Rosa Lopes Pinto Dória and Pedro Sebastião (i.e. the VHPD owners) – are named in the contract, with SID as a guarantor. The US $12 million loan was issued for the “acquisition of buildings – 40, 41, 42, 43 at Kaop park, Cacuaco – the campus for health and sports.” To this end, SID puts forward as collateral for the Millenium loan, the same buildings that it sold to the university. Kaop Park is a real estate project of LisTorres and through a similar scheme in 2011, SID managed to sell 48 Kaop Park apartments (costing US $440,000 apiece) to the university for a total of US $22 million.
Make Angola’s legal analyst, Rui Verde, had this to say about the activities of Vasco Antonio Pires Duarte: ” It is noteworthy that there appears to have been many infractions of the laws relating to companies, in particular regarding his involvement in social projects where personal interests might come into play. Equally dubious is the signing of contracts without proper legal and commercial underwriting.” “Worse still, are indications of some deeds that could be considered criminal, and acts that could constitute fraud,” he added.
A source linked to the main shareholder has denied any criminal activity: “Seen in this way, a situation in which the main shareholder and chairman of the board of directors of the Methodist University of Angola carries out businesses with his own companies does raises questions of conflict of interest.” “There are, however, advantages to be gained. Firstly, there is no pressure to make payments on time. With the directors’ companies, there is simply no pressure. We [the university] pay according to our abilities.” said the source.
The source also cites a supposed second advantage: “The Director’s quotes were often lower than those of other companies. It is true that he first analyses the proposals from other companies; based on this, he would often come up with a lower offer. After that, the director would get going with his own resources and we would pay along. These were key advantages,” the source added.
The Faculty of Engineering’s Laboratory of MUA is made up of cargo containers.
In Jesus’ name, amen
For his part, Bishop Gaspar João Domingos found a way of supplementing his monthly salary of US$10,000 as the Director of the General Assembly of the Methodist University, by obtaining the rights for his family firm to sell the uniforms and gowns (at US$650 per uniform) for MUA’s academic ceremonies. The Bishop was both a shareholder and director of GLAITETG-DMG company, while also a MUA director until 2014, in what complainants regard as a conflict of interest.
The University was founded on May 30, 2007. But on 10 March 2006, the bishop had already created a company called GLAITEG-DMG Limited in conjunction with six of his children, with himself and his wife, Lucrecia, as the managing partners. According to documents seen by Maka Angola, the uniforms are imported from the USA by the Methodist Church which consequently pays no import duty on them.
On June 12, 2012, GLAITETG-DMG wrote to the university’s Board of directors saying it had the graduation gowns “required for the graduation ceremonies for the academic year and other events to be held by this institution of higher education…” The document further stated that “due to the approaching graduation ceremony, we request that the lecturers, administrators, the dean and his assistants should acquire their gowns; the cost will be deducted from their salaries for the months of June and July.”
Remarkably, the Bishop’s company (which was avoiding payment of duties by importing the gowns in the name of the Church) also ordered the university administration to inform the beneficiaries that the gowns were mandatory and the cost would be deducted from their salaries. The Bishop’s daughter, Ariane Domingos, signed the document – in effect, placing herself in authority above the university administration.
Casting the first stone…
Two years later, on 4 June 2014, this bizarre arrangement led a group of unhappy Methodist pastors to submit a petition to President José Eduardo dos Santos, outlining what they considered to be corrupt activities by the bishop: their petition stated that in relation to the Methodist University of Angola, the university was forced to buy graduation gowns worth a total of US $ 239,000, with each gown sold to lecturers and students for US $650 and US $800 respectively.
The petition further alleged that the Bishop sought a US $120,000 donation for the church from Turpolis. However, “Instead of depositing the cheque into the church account, he put it into his personal account and kept all of the money,” the document stated. The petitioners called on the President to suspend the credentials of the Bishop from the Angolan state “to prevent greater damage.”
The Minister of State for the Office of the Presidency, Edeltrudes Costa, sent the petition directly to the Bishop: “We hereby remit the following submission for your information, taking into account that it concerns the institution you lead,” wrote the Acting Secretary for Legal Issues, Aldemiro Vaz da Conceição.
In response to the documented allegations, representatives of the bishop counter-attacked, saying that “the group of pastors were receiving envelopes of money from Portuguese [shareholders] to make storms in the church. They have raised issues of little importance. These are the pastors who drafted the document alleging bad management on the part of the Bishop.” They went on: “These pastors refused a meeting with the Bishop to clarify matters. They ought to have heard what the Bishop had to say. But their sole aim is to unseat the Bishop.”
Legal analyst Rui Verde, assessing the management style of the Bishop, suggested the following, “We have a situation of alleged abuse of power, even fraud. In legal terms, just because we are dealing with a religious entity it does not mean that he cannot be accused. Morally speaking, should he have operated in another way? In Law, this is not the issue. What is at issue is solely one point – the transference of money from a company account to those of individuals without the proper authority.”
Complaints against the Bishop have also been directed to the National Directorate for the Investigation of Economic Activities (DNIIAE). The first formal accusation came from by the MUA Student Union which wrote to the DNIIAE saying that by selling the gowns at US $650, the Bishop was making a profit of “more than a million dollars without writing out invoices or paying tax on it.” The petitioners asked for the intervention of the economic police to lower the price of the gowns to US $ 300 dollars, to ensure the appropriate tax was collected on this and to prevent the Bishop from using the Church to import the gowns tax-free before re-selling them to the students.
… and a second
Meanwhile, the Bishop launched an attack on Vasco Antonio Pires Duarte. His first accusation, dated March 6, 2014, claimed that Pires Duarte not only had been managing matters badly but had also been laundering money. He alleged that the chair of the Board of Directors had a dozen companies rendering services to the university. “Taking advantage of his position, he made sure that all the university projects evolved around his companies. The amounts raised in foreign currency are large.” The Bishop expressed concern about the size of the university’s debt, “while this has an annual turnover of US $24 million ” and lamented the large number of Portuguese employees at the university without proper documentation, suspected of being in the country illegally.
A further accusation followed on December 22, 2014, when the Bishop claimed that members of the board of directors had been falsifying documents to authorize the nullification of a contract by which the Church granted access rights to 2,550 square meters to the Methodist University of Angola. The clause he was challenging reads: “Considering that the University in question was granted a US $27 million line of credit by a banking syndicate, it is necessary that the land that has been referred to, should be property of the Methodist University of Angola and whatever improvements there might be, should serve as collateral for the aforementioned financial arrangement.”
This clause nullified the permission to use the land, instead authorizing the donation of the land to the university without any reservations. In his report, Bishop Gaspar João Domingos writes that he never agreed to such terms, and that his signature, and that of his co-signatory, Bishop José Quipungo, had been falsified. “This act allowed that land belonging to the Church could be falsely represented as collateral (for the university).” The Bishop said this was plainly criminal and an affront to “moral values.”
A third complaint against the Portuguese shareholders was made by the Bishop on July 14, 2015, based on an article that was published in the small-circulation newspaper Medio Tejo about a legal judgement made against LisTorres partners Vasco Duarte and Maria Helena Dória. The Bishop wrote: “Without having to do much mental gymnastics, we can conclude that this habit of ‘shady management’ figures in their dictionaries right from the land where they were born.”
That sparked a response from the University’s chancellor and deputy chair of the board, Teresa Neto and Pedro Sebastião, who wrote to the attorney general of the Republic, General João Maria de Sousa, to complain that the Bishop’s accusation was libelous and defamatory. “The allegations the Bishop made to the authorities on July 14, 2015 are grossly false and he will be duly sued not by the Methodist University of Angola but by the concerned parties including LisTorres company which has interests in various countries, namely Brazil and the United States.”
“The chair of the Board of Directors of the Methodist University of Angola is a Portuguese national of unimpeachable integrity. He has long been involved with the voluntary sector (Catholic church, boy scouts, Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Torres Nova, Association of Christian Entrepreneurs) and has been honoured by various institutions and given the Order of Merit of the Discovery of Brazil Pedro Álvares Cabral. He has been recognized by the Portuguese and Brazilian government.” read the document from the chancellor’s office in praise of Vasco António Pires Duarte.
Amid what seems to have been a battle for control of the university, deep divisions have now been caused within the Methodist Church itself.
The deputy chair of the Board of Directors of the Methodist University of Angola, Pedro Sebastião, who was in charge of the Church finances for 30 years, wrote to the Bishop on 15 December 2014 to ask for his resignation.
“When you serve as pastor, by chance sometimes without meaning to, you end up a “brave soldier” of the church who instead of acting as a pastor in the proper sense of the word, wants to see bloodshed,” wrote Pedro Sebastião. “I am advising you, therefore, to direct these small pastors to the Angolan Armed Forces so they may eventually go to other battlefronts (in Nigeria or the Democratic Republic of Congo, for instance.) Their behaviour shows that they belong to these battlefronts and not the Church.”
Two days later, the Bishop responded. “ [Pedro Sebastião] if you are a proper Christian then you must know that Jesus did not call Judas to his side so he could betray him but so he could help him accomplish the mission.” According to the Bishop, “Judas allowed himself to be misled by thirty pieces of silver; Jesus allowed him, in turn, to commit suicide. That is what happened; he knew at the time that at that moment Judas was more valuable dead than alive.”
The Bishop makes one more observation to his old friend and confidante: “As for the “Manamadoism” (grandstanding) in which the ears want to go above the head, be humble and serene and pray… Amen!” [Mana Mado is a colloquial Angolan term used to describe showoffs. ]
God Help the United Methodist church!