20 May 2018

Angola: My Trial and the Law to Allow Money Laundering

Photo: Rafael Marques / Twitter
Maka Angola Journalist Rafael Marques.
analysis

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 public purse and parked them abroad can now return them home safely, and become the rightful and legitimate owners of the loot. There will be no questions asked, and the corrupt will be able to dispose of the funds as they please, even resending them abroad as legally laundered money. The law also makes it clear for the corrupt who have invested abroad, as the governor of the Angolan National Bank, José de Lima Massano, explains, "people cannot be forced to bring their money back to the country."

Several government and former officials, as well as relatives and sidekicks, have seen their accounts blocked abroad, and many more fear the same fate. Thus, this law is designed by the very corrupt to allow themselves to keep the loot by bringing it back home for legal laundering.

Furthermore, there are a dozen high profile public cases of corruption, involving hundreds of millions of dollars, as reported by the attorney general's office. But only the small fry get arrested.

Thus far, there is no trial for the corrupt: only for those who oppose corruption.

It is under these circumstances that I am back in the courtroom for having exposed the corrupt ways in which the then-attorney general benefited from three acres of beachfront land for real estate development back in 2011. Because of all the evidence I provided to the investigators, I was not charged under the media law or for defamation. I am on trial under the obscure Law on Crimes against the State Security (for outrage against a body of sovereignty: the president), and for insulting a public authority under the Portuguese Imperial Penal Code of 1886.

On the allegation of defamation, the truth is the only evidence that I need; while outrage against the president and insult to the attorney general are all about the subjectivity of power.

On April 25, during the previous court session, the former administrator [mayor] of the coastal municipality of Porto-Amboim, Francisco Kapassola, detailed how he used discretionary powers to grant the land to citizen João Maria de Sousa. He claimed he did not know who he was, though he knew very well who I was by reading me on social media. Judge Josina Falcão berated him for "not knowing", in his capacity as a public oficial, who the attorney general was: "for God's sake, Mr Kapassola!"

Moreover, he explained that his administration had reserved an area for housing projects to meet the demand caused by the construction of a fabrication yard to service the Angolan oil and gas industry. Housing prices in the little town had skyrocketed to Luanda levels, and he confirmed that João Maria de Sousa received the land in that area to build houses to sell. Thus the then-attorney general João Maria de Sousa was exposed as lying under oath when he claimed he only wanted to build four wooden houses for his family's retreat.

Whichever way, the irregularities in his acquisition of the title deed for the land were all acknowledged by Francisco Kapassola. Yet, I am the one on trial. For publishing my investigation, journalist Mariano Brás is also on the dock.

To add insult to injury, I recently published another exposé on an insurance company called Garantia Seguros SA. The former attorney general and the current chief justice of the Constitutional Court, Brigadier Manuel Aragão, are major shareholders and have attended its general assembly meetings. They have also taken part in decision-making processes in violation of the magistrates' laws that forbid them from engaging in private business. This insurance company has not paid its employees for the past year. Who will investigate the magistrates? Who will put an end to their ilegal business?

Furthermore, President Lourenço's inner circle has initiated a new phase of grand corruption. Recently, the creation of a new public-private air company, Air Connection Express, was announced to take over the entire domestic market from the national carrier TAAG.

The minister of state and head of the President's Intelligence Bureau, General Pedro Sebastião, his deputy and president's brother, General Sequeira João Lourenço, as well as minister of state and the president's chief of Staff, Frederido Cardoso, are among the select cast of freeloaders or, formally, shareholders of the new company. The state has provided the sovereign guarantee for the purchase of six Canadian Bombardier Q400 planes, for US $143 million.

Rather than being dispirited, I am back in court with a renewed sense of duty. The way this regime has driven many Angolans into the earth, lays a heavy weight upon my conscience. It wages war on my sense of belonging as a citizen of this country. I am here to fight back.

Angola should not be the land of the corrupt and wicked leaders. As Winston Churchill had it: "It is the courage to continue that counts."

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