Rafael Marques Receives the Press Freedom Award

(Acceptance speech for the International Press Institute’s World Press Freedom Hero Award received on June 22 in Abuja, Nigeria.)   When the news of this award reached Angola, many of my countrymen and women posted images of me as Wakanda’s Black Panther on their social media. This award is not for me. It mirrors the hopes of many Angolans that changes will not come simply from political decision-making, but from a growing awareness amongst and stand from civil society. Looting of the state, human rights abuses, corruption and political contempt for the suffering of the people are the main ills of the Angolan society where the powerful take away what rightfully belongs to everyone and trample on others’ lives. The investigative journalism I’ve engaged in through Maka Angola in a hostile environment has spearheaded the renewal of hopes that among ordinary Angolans a force for good can be reckoned with. […]

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The Angolan Sovereign Fund and the Arch-Fraudster

When historians come to write the unexpurgated story of corruption in Angola, the chapter on how dual Swiss-Angolan national Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais enriched himself from the Angolan Sovereign Fund is sure to be a page-turner. Bastos de Morais is the silent partner of the former Sovereign Fund’s chairman, José Filomeno dos Santos (Zenú), the hitherto-untouchable son of former President José Eduardo dos Santos who turned Angola into a kleptocracy during 38 years in power. The US $5 billion Sovereign Fund was created to stimulate economic diversity – a hedge against the future when Angola’s rich oil reserves run out. Zenú and his buddy Jean-Claude are alleged to have treated the Sovereign Fund as their personal piggy bank and both face charges of fraud and money-laundering. Zenú’s father used also set up the Angolan Venture Capital Fund (in Portuguese: Fundo Activo de Capital de Risco Angolano, FACRA) in 2012. Under […]

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Prosecuting the Messenger, Absolving the Corrupt

Angola’s public prosecutor, Pedro Pederneira, calls for my conviction for the crimes of insulting a public authority and speaking against the state security (June 15). He wants me in jail for writing that former President José Eduardo dos Santos protected the corrupt. This is the crime against the state security. The public prosecution office recently charged Dos Santos’ son, José Filomeno dos Santos, and his accomplices for the looting of US $500 million from Angola’s central bank. The looting had been authorized by the father weeks before he stepped down in September last year. Last January, I was the very first to expose the whole scam at home. So, where is the crime against the state security? I supplied the court with plenty of evidence on past cases in which Mr. Dos Santos engaged and protected the corrupt, and the then-attorney general never replied to many of my formal complaints […]

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Lourenço’s “Flying Palace” and a Coconut Head

Following his 11-day European tour, Angolan president, João Lourenço, arrived home with a staggering flight bill. He spent several million dollars on a US $74,000 an hour luxurious “flying palace” that transported him the whole time, while preaching anti-corruption at home. The distinguished Ghanaian economist and activist, George Ayittey, has a name for this kind of a leader: a coconut head. For Ayittey, a coconut head is a leader, who, rather than run his country ruins it through folly and depraved indifference to the suffering of ordinary people. Many Angolans saw the social media images of the world’s only private US $350 million Boeing Dreamliner 787 VVIP ostentatiousness. Owned by the Chinese  HNA Group, this plane is the world’s largest luxury business charter. Few wanted to match it with the plane that took President Lourenço to state visits in France and Belgium, as well as a private visit to Spain. […]

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The Trial: The Plaintiff’s Confusing Complaints

Finally, on May 21, 2018, the plaintiff appeared in court, some three months after the scheduled start of the trial. The former attorney general of the Republic, General João Maria de Sousa (2007-2017), had one condition: The trial had to be held in camera during his testimony. It would no longer be in the office of the attorney general, as he initially petitioned. Judge Josina Falcão explained that it would be impossible to keep the plaintiff’s testimony a secret, because the two journalists on trial would reveal it to the public. She stressed that the General would have to sit on the witness stand like anyone else. No special chair for him. As he entered the courtroom, he told his security detail to take their seats. His lawyer signaled him to keep them out, and he obliged. He was in an uncomfortable position, his hands trembled throughout the proceedings. The […]

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My Trial and The Law to Allow Money Laundering

I am due back in court on May 21 for exposing corruption. The corrupt former attorney general of the Republic, General João Maria de Sousa, is the plaintiff. He has failed to appear in court for the past two months. He even demanded that the trial be moved from the courtroom to the Office of the Attorney General, claiming immunity and privileges. But on April 25, he fled to Portugal and became, for the third time, a runaway plaintiff. There is a great irony in this trial that exposes the farcical anti-corruption discourse of President João Lourenço. On May 17, his ruling MPLA, in power for the past 42 years, passed the Law for the Repatriation of Capital. This new law might as well be aptly named the Law on Money Laundering, for that is what it is. According to this law, those who have siphoned off funds from the […]

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Behind the Smoke Screen: An Authoritarian New President

After the 2017 elections, the hopes ordinary Angolans placed on President João Lourenço were so high that many regarded him as a gift from God. Next September, his predecessor, José Eduardo dos Santos, will finally step down from the leadership of the ruling MPLA, after 39 years. The combined imperial powers of the country’s presidency and of the MPLA will make João Lourenço the absolute ruler of Angola, and it does not bode well for the country. The political partisanship of the army and the militarization of justice are two troubling trends seen since Lourenço took office. Both need to be addressed urgently before he gets comfortable with absolute power. Initially, President Lourenço enjoyed a surge of popularity thanks to a strong anti-corruption stance. He fired his predecessor’s children from key positions, and ditched some other rotten apples. He also allowed for some other senior officials to be publicly named […]

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Another Day in Court

Today I returned to court. The judge was in no mood for jokes, berating me for my public criticism of what was decided in the previous session. Judge Josina Ferreira Falcão ruled today against the request made last week by the plaintiff, former attorney general João Maria de Sousa. At the 11th hour, General Maria de Sousa’s counsel requested another postponement because his client had to travel to Portugal. On April 16, attorney João Pedro cited special privileges and immunity to justify General Maria de Sousa’s no-show in court. He further requested that the proceedings be moved to the Office of the Attorney General. The judged ruled in favor of the requests. However, last Friday afternoon, the court called to inform me that General Maria de Sousa had requested another postponement. Then, on Monday afternoon, the court notified me that the trial would proceed the following morning at Luanda’s Provincial […]

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The Runaway Plaintiff Making a Mockery of Justice in Angola

In my professional career, I stood trial three times due to my exposés on the powerful elite in Angola. The first time, the plaintiffs were the President and the Attorney General (AG). The second time, I took on eight generals in a bundle as the plaintiffs. Now, in a repetition of the circumstances of that first trial, the plaintiffs are once again that former president and his AG. Each of these trials takes place in an alternative reality in which fiction trumps fact: as though drawing attention to their behavior is more offensive than the offenses themselves. Now, for the third time as of April 16, 2018, Luanda Provincial Court has a runaway plaintiff making a mockery of justice. Judge Josina Ferreira Falcão decided that the date of the trial must be moved to April 24, and the location to the Office of the Attorney General (AG) of the Republic, […]

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Ex-President dos Santos and His Son’s Billion-Dollar Scam

Before agreeing to step aside after 38 years in power, Angola’s former President, José Eduardo dos Santos, made sure he obtained guarantees of permanent immunity from prosecution for any crimes committed during his time in office. For Angola’s ruling party MPLA and lawmakers, it was a pragmatic necessity: how else could Dos Santos be persuaded to step aside? The man had an international reputation as one of Africa’s most zealous kleptocrats, using his position to enrich himself and his extended family. Six months on, however, a complex international investigation into an attempted US $1.5 billion fraud involving his son José Filomeno dos Santos “Zenú” has put Angolans openly discussing whether the Dos Santos family en masse should have those immunity guarantees removed. His son is firmly in the sights of criminal investigators who have documentary evidence that it was his father who oversaw the attempted scam. The Weakest Link As […]

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