Angola: NGOs present complaint in Portugal about alleged corruption at Sonangol

Three Angolan non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have filed a complaint with the Portuguese justice system, denouncing alleged corruption and money laundering schemes carried out by former managers of Sonangol, Angola’s state oil company, including former vice-president Manuel Vicente.

In a press conference, representatives of NGOs Associação Mãos Livres, Fórum Regional de Desenvolvimento Universitário (FORDU) and Associação OMUNGA, linked to the defence of human rights and citizenship, said that the complaint had been lodged with the Portuguese Central Criminal Investigation Department (DCIAP).

According to Salvador Freire of Mãos Livres, spokesman for the group, the facts occurred between 2005 and 2012, apart from Sonangol’s former directors, Bank Millenium BCP (Banco Comercial Português S.A.) is also involved.

The representative of the three NGOs said that the complaint was filed on 7 March in Portugal, considering that the European country served as a laundromat for the money allegedly embezzled from Angola.

The complaints are against Baptista Muhungo Sumbe, José Pedro Benge, Manuel Domingos Vicente, Fernando Osvaldo dos Santos and other currently unknown individuals, including current or former employees of Millenium BCP.

In response to journalists, Salvador Freire said that the bank where the actions took place is based in Portugal, and the organisations have sufficient evidence. However, the funds came from corruption involving Angolan actors.

“Portugal was the launderette, in fact, for several years Portugal has served as a launderette for illicit funds from corruption in Angola, showing that this type of criminality transcends national borders to the detriment of Angolans, so this is an initiative to hold the beneficiaries and facilitators of the corruption scheme accountable,” he said.

The lawyer and activist noted that the lawsuit could have been filed in Angola. Still, the organisations decided to move forward with the case in which it was possible to hold the different players accountable.

Although the complaint was filed in Portugal, the announcement made today in Luanda aims for the Angolan Attorney General’s Office to investigate the accusations, Freire noted.

In the complaint, the Angolan non-governmental organisations said there was evidence of payments in two schemes, carried out between 2005 and 2012, by a multinational oil services and construction company – SBM Offshore N.V. – and paid through the Portuguese accounts of two similar offshore companies – Madrill Inc. (Madrill) and Sonangol International, Inc. (SII) – each owned and managed by one or more senior executives of the Angolan parastatal hydrocarbons company Sonangol E.P.

According to the allegations, the payments were received and managed by Banco Comercial Português (BCP) without the exercise of anti-money laundering due diligence.

“The accused Baptista Muhongo Sumbe [Sonangol executive], José Pedro Benge [Sonangol executive] and Fernando Osvaldo dos Santos [oil sector industry businessman] were directors and responsible for the ghost company in Panama, Madrill Incl. [Madrill] since at least April 2010,” Salvador Freire said.

The accused Baptista Sumbe, José Pedro Benge and Manuel Domingos Vicente, Salvador Freire continued, while being senior executives of Sonangol, were also directors or responsible for the shell company in Panama.

“Baptista Sumbe allegedly was chairman-founder and chief executive officer of SII, incorporated on 7 April 1998, just two months after Madrill. Sumbe was later additionally appointed as secretary and treasurer on 1 January 2010,” he said.

On 1 January 2010, Jose Pedro Benge and Manuel Domingos Vicente, then managing director of Sonangol, were appointed as directors of SII, and a few days later, on 4 January, a shareholders’ meeting approved the opening of a corporate bank account at Banco Privado Atlântico (BPA-Europa).

Baptista Sumbe was granted exclusive signatory authority, with Jose Benge and Manuel Vicente gave joint signatory authority.

“The first scheme, Madrill Inc. deal involves 52 payments totalling $17.4 million [€14.8 million] over six years, paid to the Panamanian shell company Madrill Inc, without legal basis to receive it,” Salvador Freire said.

“SBM’s agreement to make these payments appears to have resulted from express threats that SBM’s business with Sonangol and other potential business in Angola would be severely affected if the payments were not made,” he added.

Salvador Freire said that the second scheme, involving business from Sonangol International Inc, involves $35 million (€29.7 million), which is suspected of having been illicitly paid in 2012 by SBM’s subsidiary, SBM Holding Inc. S.A. to the second ghost company in Panama, Sonangol International Inc and under very similar circumstances to the Madrill payments.

The Angolan lawyer and activist said he believed in Angolan justice and explained that the complaint comes nine years after the facts, after a lengthy process of investigations.

“We had to work very hard on this process and find enough elements to support the complaint, so it took us time, and we had to do investigations here and beyond. That is why it took all this time. We brought enough evidence, both documentary and testimonial evidence,” he said.