Angola's Richest Man Evades Selective Clampdown On Corruption

Luanda — While Angola's (and the continent's) richest woman is under siege from authorities alleging use of state money to finance her business empire, the man dubbed the richest in the Southern African country continues enjoying freedom and his wealth despite his alleged involvement in similar crimes.

This not only highlights the contrasting fortunes between businesswoman, Isabel dos Santos, and tainted politician-cum-businessman, Manuel Vicente, but confirms the selective application of laws by a government that prides itself on a clampdown against corruption.

Corruption is denounced as a legacy of the previous administration of Jose Eduardo dos Santos. His daughter, Isabel, and Vicente, his former deputy, are seen as among the beneficiaries of that legacy resulting in dos Santos' reign from 1979 to 2017.

Joao Lourenco succeeded him on a pledge to address graft, which is inherent at government level.

Hence the former president's daughter is witnessing her business empire valued at US$2 billion crumble while she is exiled in Portugal. Vicente's empire is meanwhile intact right under the president's nose.

This gives credence to Isabel's argument that the corruption accusations are a campaign to smear her reputation and discredit dos Santos.

In an interview with Portuguese medial last week, Isabel accused the office of the President of Angola, of having hired a lobby company in the United States to develop an international campaign of defamation and discrediting her and her father.

It is alleged the US firm subcontracted a company based in Malta and belongs to some Portuguese citizens close to Vicente.

On the other hand, not even the evidence against Vicente on illicit enrichment, corruption, embezzlement and criminal association are enough for the Angola Attorney General to initiate criminal proceeding against him.

The Database of Effective Owners of Angola has 28 companies associated with Vicente, who is known as the $60 billion- man in his country, the richest in southern Africa.

Vicente remains indispensable to Lourenco and has kept his role as his advisor.

There has been a string of revelations linking Vicente to some of the most controversial companies and transactions in Angola in recent years.

Among them is Lektron Capital, formerly called Global Finance, a private limited company created in 2011.

Vicente has denied being a beneficiary but the National Asset Recovery Service of the Attorney General's Office finally confirmed it last June.

The office has identified Lektron as a beneficiary to the tune of $125 million from the state oil company, Sonangol, upon its creation. It is reported Lektron used the money to acquire a stake in Banco Económico, formerly Banco Espírito Santo - Angola (BESA).

Then, Vicente was chairman of Sonangol (between 2009 and 2012) and the country's deputy president.

Therein his involvement in illicit enrichment is loaning out state (Sonangol) money to Lektron, his company, to buy Banco Económico, a bank of which he holds 30,9 percent.

Vicente is also linked to Portmill Investimentos e Telecomunicações, the major recipient of the privatisation of the Angolan telecommunications company, Movicel. It acquired 59 percent of the capital, in partnership with Modus Comunicare.

The privatisation itself was fraught with irregularities. It was done without a public tender by dos Santos' government.

Another conflict of interest stemmed from the $272,3 million cash injection into the creation of the agro-industrial unit of Cacuso for a project in the northern Malanje for the cultivation and production of sugar cane which was expected to supply the country with sugar, alcohol and electric power.

In the deal, Vicente, as the chairman of Sonangol, was involved in the use of public money from the state oil firm in a transaction for Damer Indústria's participation in the Malanje project.

Damer Indústria, incorporated in 2007, belongs equally to Generals Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias Júnior "Kopelipa" and Leopoldino Fragoso do Nascimento, in association with Vicente.

Further controversy lies in the Banco Angolano de Investimentos (BAI), of which Vicente owns 5 percent through an offshore company called ABL, as cited in a United States Senate report published in 2010.

Sonangol is a majority shareholder in BAI, recently ranked as Angola's largest commercial bank. This points to Vicente representing the oil company, while also standing for private interests.

The politician also proprietor of Nazaki, an oil company he owns in partnership with Generals Kopelipa and Leopoldino do Nascimento.

It has a joint venture with American company, Cobalt.

Lastly, Vicente is linked to Cochan SA, also involved in the oil industry of Angola, Africa's second-largest producer of the commodity.

Zandre Finda, Vicente's well-known front man is among the formal shareholders of Cochan and is the executive director of Nazaki.

Critics believe his status as the so-called keeper of important financial information in Angola makes him indispensable to Lourenço.

He is a congressman for the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) party that has ruled Angola from independence in 1975 and is a member of its central committee.

Even plans in 2017 by the former coloniser, Portugal, to prosecute him for allegedly attempting to bribe a judge with $810 000 in order to shelve investigations into his deals at Sonangol Group caused a fallout between the two countries.

Ironically, some individuals with ties to Vicente have not evaded justice, among them Armando Vara, former Portuguese finance minister imprisoned for five years for malpractices when he was vice-president of the BCP bank in Portugal, of which Sonangol is a 19,4 percent shareholder.

Another is Sam Pa, who for years was the main link between Angola's business deals with China.

He was arrested in 2015 on suspicion of corruption.

Other individuals already convicted or linked with ongoing cases in different countries include Orlando Figueira and the lawyers Proença de Carvalho and Paulo Blanco, allegedly involved in the so-called Operation Fizz in Portugal.

The operation, which Vicente has survived, investigated economic and financial crimes between the two countries.

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