Angola: No Magic - Angola's Banking System Is Just Smoke and Mirrors

4 September 2019
analysis

What happened to the US $2 billion injection of funds from Angola's central bank (BNA) in 2014 that was supposed to refinance the Banco Económico (BE) as it emerged from the ashes of the failed Banco Espírito Santos (BESA)? Surely José de Lima Massano must have some idea? He was Governor of the Banco Nacional de Angola (BNA) then and is again now. Did he keep track of where the money went? Because the BE is failing again and he seems all too ready to throw good money after bad: ordering majority shareholder Sonangol to inject a further US $1.2 billion of public money into it. So who does this bailout benefit?

Mr. Massano is the master magician tasked by President João Lourenço with restoring good governance to the Angolan banking system. Is he not up to the job? Or is he actively sabotaging it?

According to Diamantino de Azevedo, the Minister for Oil and Mineral Resources, Sonangol has been ordered to put up a staggering US $1.2 billion to bail out the Banco Económico thanks to an "instruction from the National Bank of Angola (BNA) in its capacity as the regulatory body".

This, although neither the BNA nor anyone in government seems to have the slightest clue what happened to the US $2 billion of public money Massano arranged in the 2014 takeover of the Banco Económico, in what was supposed to be a short-term injection of capital.

To date the US $2 billion has never been repaid to the Angolan public purse and while the BNA's own auditors have repeatedly asked for clarification and explanations, Mr Massano's only response is that the money was assigned to the bank's capital reserves. Yet the BE is apparently insolvent again and the BNA is left holding a worthless IOU, which was supposed to be guaranteed by the National Insurance Company, (Empresa Nacional de Seguros, ENSA). Maka Angola will follow up in a future report into the role of the National Insurance Company in this farrago.

Chronicle of a crisis foretold

Sonangol, which became a majority shareholder to bail out the Banco Económico in 2014, was in a far, far better state of financial health than it finds itself today. Even back then the state oil company was finding it increasingly difficult to comply with all its obligations. Where is it supposed find another US $1.2 billion now, when it is in such a perilous financial state that it cannot even afford to update the anti-virus software for its office computers?

And how can Mr. Massano, as financial sector regulator, justify forcing Sonangol to use public money to acquire stock of dubious value in a supposedly-commercial institution in order to prevent it from going under?

Don't forget José de Lima Massano was the BNA Governor who in 2014 ordered Sonangol to cough up for BE in spite of a glaring conflict of interest: Mr. Massano was not only himself a former Sonangol executive but a protégé of the infamous Manuel Vicente, one of the former President's right-hand men and one of the principle beneficiaries of the corrupt regime that used Sonangol as their private income stream.

As recorded in previous editions of Maka Angola, the entire saga of the death of the Banco Espírito Santo, and consequent creation of Banco Económico, was due to an insider coup by the Angolans, which brought down one of Portugal's oldest private banks.

In July 2014 Massano's BNA advised the BESA Board of Directors that the bank's position required an immediate injection of capital equivalent to US $2.7 billion to avoid imminent insolvency. The BNA gave BESA's Board of Directors a 48 hour deadline for "current shareholders" to respond while throwing the bank a lifeline: if the shareholders were unable to put together the entire amount, the Angolan State would intervene with contingency funds subject to certain conditions it referred to as 'special measures'. Out of time and facing certain ruin, the Board consented.

Within three months, the BNA's capital requirement had ballooned from US $2.7 billion to US $4.9 billion dollars and it announced that it would implement the proposed special measures "as approved by BESA shareholders".

There followed the infamous special general meeting chaired by the provisional administrator, António Ramos da Cruz, directly appointed by José de Lima Massano, which gave the president's notorious 'triumvirate' (General Leopoldino Fragoso do Nascimento "Dino", General Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias Júnior "Kopelipa" and Manuel Vicente) majority control of the BESA bank, renamed the Banco Económico.

In what was both unprecedented (and illegal), institutions that were not hitherto shareholders in BESA were allowed to vote in the special meeting that resulted in their sharing out the bank's stock amongst themselves in exchange for the injection of capital (see attached table).

The new shareholders were given seven working days to come up with their share of the capital as laid out. This was not enforced by the BNA. Even one year later, only Sonangol had actually delivered any funds at all: a total of US $125 million out of the US $286.5 million it was supposed to invest.

Curiously, Zandre Eudénio Campos Finda attended that special general meeting as the official representative of a BESA shareholder company named Portmill Investimentos S.A, which owned 24% of BESA. As reported by Maka Angola it later became clear that he was just the 'straw man' and Portmill really belonged to the 'triumvirate'.

One of the 'new' shareholders, Lektron Capital, was supposedly a Chinese-owned company but in reality was registered in Angola by the same Zandre Eudénio Campos Finda. The implication was clearly that this too was nothing more than a front for the presidential triumvirate.

The evidence suggests the triumvirate had spent months planning how to wrest control of BESA from its parent bank, the BES. Lektron's main source of capital? No prizes for guessing it was actually Sonangol. Lektron obtained a US $132.7 million dollar credit from Sonangol in May 2014, five months ahead of time and subsequent public statements have confirmed the money was specifically for the acquisition of BE stock (see below). Sonangol requested repayment in 2018 but (in common with other loans and investments made to the former President's corrupt cabal) none was forthcoming.

Prestidigitation

BNA Governor Massano's documented sleight-of-hand in moving public monies from the central bank to private banks owned by Dos Santos cronies include managing an increase of capital to the Novo Banco by means of a US $500 million 'loan' from the Portuguese-owned Banco de Espirito Santo to its Angolan subsidiary (BESA) in exchange for stock. Yet Novo Banco's stake for 9% of BE cost it precisely nothing.

Instead Banco Novo used the loan for other ends. The paper trail shows most of the money was actually used to fund the construction of the (as yet uncompleted) Torres Kinaxixi. And who owns that project? Two of the Triumvirate (Generals Dino and Kopelipa) in partnership with their dual national Angolan-Brazilian sidekick, Minoru Dondo.

Over and over and over, José de Lima Massano has used his position and influence to favour the business interests of his mentor Manuel Vicente, Generals Dino and Kopelipa (aka the 'Triumvirate') and other corrupt members of the Dos Santos cabal. The evidence of BNA malfeasance was so undeniable it led to the European Central Bank branding Angola a "poorly-regulated jurisdiction" and ordering the BPI to pull investment from the country to limit its exposure.

And yet, in spite of his record, Massano was brought back as BNA Governor by President João Lourenço. Since then he has manipulated the foreign exchange market to allow more than US $5 billion in foreign exchange to private banks and firms on credit even though allowing them to delay payment (in the national currency, the Kwanza) for the purchase of US dollars would result in private gain and public loss. In that dubious manoeuvre alone, the Banco Económico received 20%, more than one billion US dollars, of the funds in question. It should be a matter of legally-required disclosure that the BNA reveal who else benefited from this foreign exchange carnival.

Now you see it, now you don't

The fact that Lektron only obtained its stake in Banco Económico thanks to using $125 million of the $132.7 million loan it obtained from Sonangol, was revealed in a report issued in June this year by Angola's National Service for the Recovery of Assets, a branch of the Office of the State Attorney-General (Serviço Nacional de Recuperação de Activos, SNRA).

The SNRA report states baldly that the Sonangol loan to Lektron was for "the acquisition of shares in the Banco Económico" and it names the Lektron beneficiaries: former Sonangol chief (and Vice-President of Angola under Dos Santos) Manuel Vicente and his fellow Triumvirate colleague, General Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias Júnior, 'Kopelipa'.

According to the SNRA: "Lektron has voluntarily handed back its stake to the Angolan State". Really? It seems only to have returned shares notionally worth US $125 million and not exactly voluntarily. And no accounting for the remaining US $7.7 million of the Sonangol loan?

It doesn't require any forensic expertise to figure out what happened. The Angolan players (notably the 'Triumvirate') must have planned to defraud the Banco Espírito Santo and take control of its Angolan subsidiary months in advance and they used Sonangol's capital to achieve it while handily also rewarding themselves with a few million for their 'ingenuity'. US $7.7 million could have bought Angola a new school or health clinic - it was just spare change to the men who had already embezzled billions of dollars from the Angolan Treasury.

The Dos Santos regime's kleptocrats hoped they'd made it too time-consuming and difficult for any serious investigation of their financial crimes to culminate in prosecution and confiscation of their ill-gotten gains. They were wrong. So, isn't it utterly absurd to find Angolan officials in the current 'anti-corruption' regime justifying throwing yet more public money at them?

In effect, the BNA's order to Sonangol to bail out the BE is an attempt to throw good money after bad at a failing institution linked to corrupt politically-exposed persons (PEPs). And how do they justify this? They blame the BE's illiquidity on one of the shareholder companies failing to comply with its financial undertakings. Which one? Is it really a surprise that it would be the fake 'Chinese' company Lektron, which in reality was owned by the Triumvirate?

When Minister Diamantino de Azevedo reported that "one of the shareholders failed to comply with the demand for a capital injection", he accidently revealed the culprit by stating Sonangol had absorbed its share of the bank stock, making Sonangol the majority shareholder with 70.37% of the stock. It had gained 30.9% - the exact percentage owned by Lektron. And just like that, the truth of the illusion was revealed. Whereas the SNRA claimed Lektron had voluntarily handed back its share of the Bank, the fact is that Lektron actually failed to deliver any of the promised capital it had pre-obtained as a loan from Sonangol. Far from an altruistic return of assets to the state, Lektron defaulted and was thus obliged to forfeit its percentage of BE stock. Not that it repaid the Sonangol loan either. No doubt, they were hoping no-one would notice.

Who's fooling who?

If João Lourenço's government is serious about recovering the assets stolen by the Dos Santos cabal over decades, then the Office of the State Attorney-General needs to be able to join the dots.

If Angola's political and legal institutions are still incapable of finding the truth (or worse, are deliberately assisting in the cover up), in effect they are participating in the obstruction of justice and those involved are co-conspirators in crimes against the state.

Sadly, the signs are not encouraging. Despite the revelations, Massano is still Governor of the BNA. And he continues to put in place aides known to have helped the Triumvirate in the past: men like António Ramos da Cruz, the patsy who chaired the BESA special general meeting that cemented the illicit takeover who has now been named by Massano to the position of Vice-President of the Board of Directors of the Banco Económico.

Can the BNA be trusted not to interfere in the administration of failing commercial banks?

How can anyone expect honest and transparent administration of this bank in the circumstances, or indeed of any part of the Angolan banking system, when the man in charge of the financial regulator is the same poacher-turned-gamekeeper of yesteryear?

The BNA is constituted to act as an independent and separate institution to act in the best interests of the Angolan people. Is it doing what it is legally required to do? The evidence suggests otherwise. Can the BNA be trusted not to manipulate exchange rates in favour of cronies of the current Governor?

In short, can the current BNA Governor be trusted?

What more evidence do the authorities need? The BNA is demonstrably failing in its regulatory central bank duty to supervise the private banking sector and the actions of the BNA Governor suggest that this dereliction of duty may not be accidental.

Massano has both historic and current conflicts of interest because of his close ties to, and actions on behalf of politically-exposed persons, which should disqualify him. And yet...

As current BNA Governor he is being allowed to demand a bail-out of over a billion US dollars of public money for a failing private bank for which he previously arranged more than two billion US dollars of public money and which is part-owned by those same PEPs.

He has used his position as BNA Governor to manipulate foreign exchange dealings to the known benefit of that same failing bank in which these PEPs have a financial interest.

His appointments to the administration of that private bank (amongst others), whose probity he is supposed to regulate, are the same cronies tarnished by their past actions in support of the PEPs with a financial interest in that bank.

Why is he bankrolling and interfering in the administration of a commercial bank that is failing because it squandered its operating capital by issuing unrecoverable unsecured loans suspected to have been directed to those same PEPS?

It would be impossible for any BNA governor not to know (or find proof) that the PEPs in question continue to help themselves to public funds through these supposedly commercial banks. Their playbook is so well-known: obtain unsecured loans via shell companies with fake nominal owners which then transfer the monies to other entities also secretly owned by the same PEPs.

In this way they drain the private banks' financial reserves to near-bankruptcy, secure in the knowledge that a friendly regulator will simply order up more state funds to ensure the whole merry-go-round can keep on turning. If Massano is unaware of this, he is incompetent and should be removed. If he is aware, then he is complicit and should be removed.

Taken together, the actions of the current BNA Governor strongly indicate sufficient grounds for an immediate criminal investigation. At the very least, there is enough documented evidence to persuade any President serious about tackling corruption at the highest levels, to order an asset freeze and suspend all those involved from any public office until they may be cleared of wrongdoing. Otherwise, to the rest of the world, this is what it looks like: despite political promises of reform, Angola's banking, legal and corporate systems are not fit for purpose and corrupt PEPs can still operate there with impunity, whether defrauding foreign partners to seize their assets or illegally-diverting public money into their own pockets.

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