Lawyers for three prominent Angolans who are supporting a Swiss criminal investigation into allegedly corrupt dealings in a huge Angolan-Russian debt deal have expressed their acute disappointment at the Swiss authorities' decision to release Arcadi Gaydamak - an Israeli-Russian arms dealer who played a central role in the affair - from custody late last week.
David Mendes, Francisco Tunga and Ernesto Guilherme filed a Criminal Complaint with Swiss Federal prosecutors on April 16, 2013, alleging that Gaydamak colluded in a criminal organisation with UBS bank officials and Angolan political leaders to commit bribery, money laundering, and/or abuse of trust in connection with the repayment of Angolan sovereign debt to Russia.
Gaydamak is also a fugitive from a three-year French prison conviction over his role in the Angolagate affair.
He was arrested by Swiss authorities on or about November 19, in connection with an unrelated legal dispute, but then released last week, without being questioned about the Angolan debt affair.
François Membrez, legal counsel to the three Angolan plaintiffs, noted that Swiss federal prosecutors confirmed less than seven weeks ago that they had opened an investigation into their allegations.
"According to information we've received, there was no effort to interview Gaydamak about the Angola-related allegations," said Membrez. "I am baffled as to how serious investigators could have thrown away the opportunity to question Gaydamak in detail about an active investigation while he was in Swiss custody. They appear to have abdicated their responsibility to investigate."
Of the US$1.39 billion paid by Angola to settle its debt with Russia, Gaydamak, along with business partners Pierre Falcone and Vitaly Malkin, and at least five senior Angolan officials, siphoned off over US$386 million - including US$36.2 million paid to President dos Santos.
The complex set of transactions that began in 1996 was the subject of a detailed investigative report, Deception in High Places: The Corrupt Angola-Russia Debt Deal, published by Angolan NGO Mãos Livres and Corruption Watch UK, simultaneously with filing of the Criminal Complaint.
The failure to question Gaydamak in this case is particularly troubling, coming on the heels of a successful campaign by the Angolan government against Portugal that shut down corruption investigations into two senior Angolan leaders, Vice-President Manuel Domingos Vicente and General Francisco Higino Lopes Carneiro.