analysisBy Rafael Marques De Morais
The kick-start of the ruling People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), and president José Eduardo dos Santos campaign trail, on June 23, in the 11 de Novembro stadium, elicited the shadow and the real power of another dos Santos. Few people noticed it.
On the stage erected outside the stadium, where several famous Angolan singers performed, and where the president was scheduled to address the crowds, another name was displayed on two huge posters on both sides of the stage: that of the controversial 47 year old political showman Bento Kangamba, whose real name is Bento dos Santos.
The event was yet another masterful coup in the personal campaign of the self-proclaimed "businessman for youth" and president of Kabuscorp F.C. Bento Kangamba who is running for Member of Parliament in the up-coming elections scheduled for August 31. The said candidate is the secretary of the MPLA's provincial committee of Luanda, for suburban and rural organisation and mobilisation.
How did Bento Kangamba become powerful enough to be able to use an event devoted to president José Eduardo dos Santos, himself a personality cult master, to promote himself? This question leads to another one, of national significance. How can someone, convicted by a court, with a criminal record, run for election as a Member of Parliament?
The current investigation throws light on the extraordinary trajectory of Bento Kangamba, for whom the law and State institutions, including the presidency, yield to his colourful and sinister personality.
Law and Crime
The Angolan Constitution, promulgated by president José Eduardo dos Santos on January 21, 2010, establishes, among other conditions, that citizens, "who have been convicted with prison sentences of more than two years", are ineligible to serve as Members of Parliament (Art. 145, 1, e).
On October 27, 2000, the Supreme Military Tribunal tried brigadier (res.) Bento dos Santos, commonly known as Bento Kangamba, for indecorous conduct, fraud and two counts of forgery. The court sentenced him to serve a concurrent prison term of two years and eight months. The retired officer was also required to pay a compensation of US $427,531 to the victim of his business dealings, the Portuguese firm Filapor-Comércio Internacional Lda, based in Portugal.
The case dates back to March 1996, when the then colonel of the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA), Bento dos Santos, was in charge of logistics for the 16th Battalion of the Cuango Operational Command, in the diamond-rich Northeastern province of Lunda-Norte. He fraudulently imported merchandise in valued at US $267,532 from Filapor, on behalf of the Directorate of Logistics of the General Staff of the Army. In reality, according to the the Supreme Military Tribunal's ruling, the containers of "cooking oil, tuna, sardines, refrigerators, pieces of furniture, mattresses and sporting equipment", were all imported for illicit trade. "All the merchandise was received by Bento dos Santos 'Kangamba' and sold by him, for personal profit, in the informal markets of Luanda and in the provinces of Lunda-Norte, Lunda-Sul and Moxico, without ever making payments to the supplier or to his business partners in Luanda", the ruling stated.
Nevertheless, the retired officer refused to pay the debt as established by the military court's ruling. In reaction to the enquiries by the Portuguese government on the matter, on December 17, 2001, the then minister of Defense, general Kundy Paihama, wrote to the Portuguese secretary for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Luís Amado. "I express my disapproval for the criminal activity of the above-mentioned defendant, whose behaviour warranted a conviction by the Supreme Military Tribunal (...)", the minister stated in his letter. General Kundi Paihama recommended that certain legal measures be taken in order to recoup the debt owed to the businessman Manuel Lapas, the owner and CEO of Filapor, who was duped by Bento dos Santos, or simply Bento Kangamba. The convicted forged documents authorizing him to conduct business on behalf of the Directorate of Logistics of the General Staff of the Army.
The following year, on June 19, 2002, the Supreme Court imposed another prison sentence of four years on Bento Kangamba for fraud crimes, and ordered him to pay compensation in the value of US $75,000 to two local companies, Nutritiva and Lokali.
In turn, on May 7, 2012, a court in Sintra, Portugal, ordered the seizure of assets held by Bento dos Santos in that European country, in order to pay the debt of more than a million euros that he owes to Manuel Lapas. Among the assets seized from Bento dos Santos were an apartment in Oeiras (Lisbon), two luxury Mercedes-Benz cars, and six bank accounts in the Millenium and Banco Espírito Santo, with a derisory total balance of €15,035.
Ironically, in Lisbon, the self-proclaimed "businessman for youth", is merely an employee of Lapigema - Lapidação e Comércio de Gemas, Lda, based in Estoril. Employed as an acquisitions' prospector, general Bento dos Santos earns a monthly salary of €485. Since this corresponds to the national minimum wage in Portugal, his employer, Lapigema, stated on May 17, that the said salary is " not seizable", thereby excusing itself from executing Order nÂÂº PE/333.2012 of Process 11249/12.3TSNT, which upholds the Angolan Supreme Military Tribunal's ruling, that convicted Kangamba. To this effect, the company confirmed payment of salary for the month of April to Bento Kangamba, and included the pay slip receipt in a letter it sent to the executor of the seizure.
The links between Bento Kangamba, the MPLA candidate for Member of Parliament, and Lapigema will certainly be the target of a thorough investigation, at a later date.
In an interview he gave to Rádio Ecclésia last year, Bento Kangamba described his incarceration, in less-than intelligible terms, as a fabrication by envious people. "Why was I in jail? Because in 97-96, I used my influence to support the teachers' strike and education. The grudgers of this world, they never like to stand-up for the well being of the people."
How has Bento Kangamba managed to trample the law? In his interview with Rádio Ecclésia he was peremptory: "In this country I am more than a minister!"
Following his conviction by the Supreme Military Tribunal in 2000, Bento Kangamba was expelled from the MPLA's central committee and from the party's ranks. However, in 2009 the MPLA readmitted to its central committee the same militant it had previously expelled for criminal activity.
In 2010, Bento Kangamba became part of the presidential family by marrying Avelina Escórcio dos Santos, the daughter of Avelino dos Santos, the eldest brother of José Eduardo dos Santos. The head of State honoured the ceremony with his presence. As his godfather, Bento Kangamba chose a highly placed figure in the president's inner circle, general Higino Carneiro, who is a member of the MPLA's political bureau and deputy-leader of the party's parliamentary group.
Last April, José Eduardo dos Santos, in his role as commander-in-chief of the FAA, promoted Bento Kangamba to the rank of three-star general. Though he had retired from the army prior to his conviction in 2000, this member of the Central Committee of the MPLA has been receiving promotions, in the army, for no apparent reason.
The Long Arm of the Regime
On March 7 this year, the vice-president of general Kangamba's football club, Raúl Mendonça, personally directed a group of militias to kidnap the youths Mário Domingos and Kimbamba, right by a mobile National Police station in the municipality of Cazenga, Luanda. The two youths have organised demonstrations demanding the resignation of president José Eduardo dos Santos.
"I grabbed a bar of the mobile police station, the assailants discharged electric shocks on us, beat us up, stripped us of our cell phones and documents in front of the police officers, who just watched unmoved," said Mário Domingos. The victims were then brought before Raúl Mendonça, vice-president of Kabuscorp F.C. "Mr. Raúl [Mendonça] promised us money to stop organising protests against president José Eduardo dos Santos", explained Mário Domingos.
Bento Kangamba has been accused on several occasions of being behind the pro-Dos Santos militias who have been targeting protest leaders with vicious attacks and abductions. On June 4, general Kangamba denied, on Rádio Ecclésia, any involvement with the militias. "Have I been promoted to the rank of three-star general to command militias? This [accusation] is lack of respect. It is envy," he said.
However, Mário Domingos and Kimbamba witnessed Mr. Raúl issuing orders to his club thugs. "He said that we were stubborn elements who wanted to be heroes and die for the people. So, he told his men to get rid of us.'" The abductors took the victims to a landfill.
Mário Domingos added: "There we were tortured with electric shocks, beaten up as they pleased. But there were some people around who heard our screams and came forth. They [assailants] took us to the cars again, and drove us to a quieter landfill where they continued with the torture, but there were scavengers there too who heard us screaming."
The Candidate's Ineligibility
How could the Constitutional Court, which was so zealous in refusing opposition candidacies, to the point of referring some processes for criminal investigation, have allowed the candidacy of Bento Kangamba, who occupies the 60th place on the MPLA list? What extract of criminal record did Bento Kangamba submit to the Constitutional Court?
One remote possibility to rationalize the approval of Bento Kangamba's candidacy would be the argument of an amnesty since president José Eduardo dos Santos decreed several since 2000. However, this argument has no legal bearing. First, the convict served his first sentence in jail, and it remains in execution, in Lisbon, for his failure to pay the debt. Second, the Supreme Military Tribunal itself argues in its ruling, referring to the case, that amnesties declared for military crimes are not applicable to fraud crimes. To that effect, it quotes Art. 49 of the Law on Military Crimes (Law 4/94), which establishes that "crimes of corruption, theft, embezzlement, breach of trust, and fraud, established in the civil penal code, when practiced by military personnel, will be punished by the sentences established by civil law, aggravated by a third." The ruling was signed by judges António dos Santos Neto, Augusto da Costa Carneiro and Adolfo Aníbal Rasoilo, who are all generals. The first currently holds the office of chief justice of the Supreme Military Tribunal, while the second serves as a Supreme Court judge.
Decisions taken by the president of the MPLA, and of the Republic, José Eduardo dos Santos, have often highlighted his lack of respect for the country's legislation promulgated by himself, and which conforms to his political will. The candidacy of Bento Kangamba is only yet another demonstration of his arbitrariness.
Will the Constitutional Court at least have sufficient courage and dignity to make a public statement on the case? Or is it simply a tool for excluding unwanted members of the opposition?