Sonangol’s Slush-Fund Salary Payments

Concerns over the mal-administration of the Angolan oil giant, Sonangol, continue to multiply, as the country’s prime source of foreign income haemorrhages millions of dollars on foreign (mainly Portuguese) ‘consultants’ close to the President’s daughter while defaulting on essential payments.

Isabel dos Santos, appointed by her father to run Sonangol last June, maintains the PR fiction that her objectives are to “raise transparency” and “improve management practise” at the state-owned petroleum giant.

Why then does the lady who likes to call herself “Africa’s first female billionaire” insist on secrecy over the remuneration of her board and the more than 60 Portuguese consultants she has hired? And why are these foreign consultants working inside Angola on tourist visas?

Insiders say Isabel’s board and administration are not paid according to the agreed salary scale at Sonangol and so are not on the official payroll. Instead, their elevated payments come directly from a secret slush-fund controlled exclusively by Financial Director Sarju Raikundalia, a Portuguese citizen, and Isabel dos Santos herself.

As for the foreign consultants, their fees are paid by Sonangol’s London subsidiary, which draws funds from Sonangol’s offshore accounts at Investec Bank’s Mauritius and Hong Kong branches.

Revelations passed to Maka Angola include the astonishing allegation that the million-dollar monthly cost of the consultants hired by Isabel dos Santos to advise her, surpasses the entire Sonangol Group payroll.

Isabel’s gurus include the Portuguese law offices of Vasco Vieira de Almeida, the US-based Boston Consulting Group and even a company owned by Isabel herself: Wise Intelligence Solutions. In effect, the Angolan businesswoman parachuted into Sonangol by her father, the country’s President, on grounds of her expertise, is paying herself to advise herself. And she is doing so by circuitous means to avoid paying the relevant Angolan taxes.

Contravening EU Tax Evasion Laws

A whistle-blower at the Finance Ministry (who must remain anonymous for obvious reasons) told Maka Angola that such payments are also in contravention of Angola’s tax laws, in particular Law 7/97, the Industrial Tax Retention at Source Special Regime, which states: “The organization receiving the service must withhold the appropriate tax in Angola, even in regard to non-residents, because in effect the service is delivered within the country.”

According to sources in the Finance Ministry: “Isabel’s scheme means that her consultants pay no taxes in Angola and Sonangol is in dereliction of its duty to honour its tax payments”.

A jurist, who also wishes to remain anonymous, concurs. “Angolan law applies duties to capital transfers outside the country in order to avoid the flight of capital and tax evasion (cf Presidential Decree 2/15) and this has a tendency to make it difficult for foreigners to move money out of Angola.”

“This has led to the increasing use of offshore accounts by companies as a way of getting around the restrictions imposed by Angola on the movement of money abroad and it amounts to tax evasion (which defrauds) both Angola and Portugal”, said the jurist.

And he notes that Sonangol Ltd (founded in 1983) and Sonangol Offshore Services Ltd (founded in 2012) are both UK-based and governed under UK company law expressly for the purpose of the international trade of crude oil and associated activities along with their related administrative and office functions. “If by chance, they are using these British companies to evade the Portuguese tax regime, then they fall foul of EU rules which require them to divulge the relevant information and pay the required taxes.”

Paid tourists

The Portuguese ‘tourists’ helping Isabel dos Santos restructure Sonangol are certainly enjoying all the benefits of their ‘paid holiday’. Petroleum Ministry sources say two of these expatriate consultants are receiving housing subsidies of US $7,000 a month each, a sum that exceeds the official monthly salary of any of the Sonangol directors. The housing subsidy is paid locally – but the salaries for these consultants is being paid from London.

And what do they do to earn these large sums? These two individuals vet in advance all documents sent by the Finance Department to Finance Director Sarju Raikundalia, whose own position is a non-executive one and whose job includes the onerous responsibility for looking after such matters as the payment of the monthly nursery fees for the son of the Legal Director, César Paxe.

It is a running joke in Sonangol, that Sarju Raikundalia will not even glance at any document that has not been pre-vetted by his two fellow Portuguese colleagues. So while Sonangol cannot afford to pay its creditors, it can afford to pay three people to do one man’s job.

Sarju Raikundala’s own children attend school in Porto, Portugal, his home town and their fees are paid out of Sonangol London which also takes care of the London school fees (and other family expenses) of another Director, Edson Santos.

Meanwhile, the majority of the nearly 60 Portuguese ‘consultants’ working for Sonangol in Angola are in the country on tourist visas, because their ‘qualifications’ would not justify their gaining work permits and contracts over their Angolan counterparts. It’s no coincidence that most of these are also from Porto and are connected to the Porto-born Mário Leite Silva who administers Isabel dos Santos’s private fortune.

Mário Leite Silva is currently the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Banco de Fomento de Angola (BFA) but he seems to spend most of his working week at the Sonangol head office, even though he has no official role there. Nonetheless, he is able to issue instructions as though he were a director, via Sarju Raikundalia, the man he recommended to Isabel for the Chief Finance Officer (CFO) position.

State secrets in foreign hands

It is a mystery to Sonangol’s highly-educated Angolan experts as to why a cabal of under-qualified Portuguese officials has not only been allowed access to, but total control of, confidential information relating not just to Sonangol but to Angola defence and security matters.

One example: Sonangol has suspended shipments of oil to Israel which form part of the payment for a seven billion US dollar contract with Israel for defense and security services and equipment.

Paulo Catarro, the former RTP (Portuguese TV and Radio) correspondent in Angola, has just been appointed as Adviser to Sonangol’s Communications Office (working directly to Mário Leite Silva). Any chance he will shed any light on this situation?