Portugal: 'Angolagate' Bribes in Local Banks

Published on 4th November 2008
President José Eduardo dos Santos
Portuguese banks that received transfers of money to Angolan politicians implicated in illegal arms sales have kept mum after the Lisbon paper Público reported their involvement.

The Banco de Portugal, the country’s central bank, has remained silent, and the banks mentioned by the newspaper declined to comment in response to queries from IPS Monday, invoking the law on bank secrecy.

Público Journalist Ana Dias Cordeiro, an expert on African affairs, reported on Oct. 31 that "more than 21 million dollars received by high-level officials of the regime in Luanda as a result of the illicit sales of arms from Russia to Angola passed through Portuguese banks."

The information on which the article was based is contained in a list of bank transfers that form part of the evidence in the trial over the scandal dubbed "Angolagate".

The trial, in which 42 defendants, including former senior French officials and members of that country’s elite, are facing a range of charges related to illegal arms sales, opened in Paris on Oct. 6.

The case, in which no Angolan has been charged, is focusing on 790 million dollars of war materiel sold to Angola despite an arms embargo against that country, including 450 armoured vehicles, six warships, 12 helicopters, 150,000 howitzers and 170,000 land-mines.

But it is estimated that between 1993 and 2000, Russia’s illegal weapons sales to Angola amounted to a total of four billion dollars.

Público cites a document by investigating Judge Philippe Courroye -- in the Paris courtroom presided over by Magistrate Jean-Baptiste Parlos -- who lists 54 million dollars in bank transfers to the accounts of senior officials and close associates of the Angolan government -- allegedly kickbacks for illegal arms sales paid out during that seven-year period.

Of the 70 transfers totaling 54 billion dollars in illegal commissions, 50 of them --involving 21 million dollars -- appear to have been deposited in Portuguese banks.

The largest sums went to the state-run Caixa Geral de Depósitos (CGD) and the Banco Comercial Portugués (BCP), the country’s two largest banks.

The Nacional de Crédito, Nacional Ultramarino (since absorbed by the CGD), Comercio e Industria, Totta & Açores, Pinto & Sotto Mayor (which forms part of the BCP) banks and the Portuguese branches of Spain’s Banco Bilbao Vizcaya and Britain’s Barclays are also on the list of financial institutions contained in the indictment.

The beneficiaries of the payments are led by Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos himself, who allegedly received five million dollars, while another 10 million went into the account of former Angolan ambassador to France Elísio de Figueiredo. Other recipients of sums that were not revealed are former cabinet secretary José Leitão, his wife, and his son, according to the list.

Among the Angolan senior armed forces officers implicated in the scandal are generals Fernando Araújo, Salviano Sequeira and Carlos Alberto Hendrick Vaal Neto, who is now in the diamond business, and Fernando Miala, former head of the secret services, who was sacked by dos Santos in February 2006 and has been in prison since last year.

The transfers were allegedly ordered by businessman Pierre Falcone from different bank accounts in his company, Brenco Trading Limited.

The defendants in Angolagate are accused of forming a vast network of middlemen and influence peddlers in the 1990s, when Angola was facing an international arms embargo due to the civil war that broke out in 1975, shortly after Portuguese colonial rule came to an end.

Some of the most prominent French defendants on trial include former interior minister Charles Pasqua (1993-1995), who is now 81, his closest associate, Jean-Charles Marchiani, the son of late French president François Mitterrand (1981-1995), Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, and former presidential adviser Jacques Attali.

Falcone and Russian-born Israeli billionaire Arcadi Gaydamak, who has taken refuge in Israel -- which does not extradite its citizens -- are also accused of arms trafficking.

The charges of illegal weapons deals, embezzlement, tax evasion and influence peddling are punishable by sentences of between five and 10 years. The verdict is due on Mar. 4, 2009.

The indictment, leaked to the Público newspaper, also states that an unidentified "key witness" said ambassador Figueiredo was the "personal representative of the president" and the person in charge of his secret financial operations in the Banque Internationale à Luxembourg and the Israel Discount Bank in Switzerland.

In the trial, Falcone testified that a "state commission" of more than 40 million dollars was paid to Angola "through completely official channels."

Judge Courroye responded that "cash transfers to the Angolan state were not found in the records of the accounts indicated by Pierre Falcone," although several transfers to members of or persons close to the Angolan government, and to offshore societies created by them, were found.

Falcone had to admit that some 30 Angolans had received funds in accounts overseas "for the defence of national interests," which forced them to purchase weapons to defeat the rebels of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).

The violence in Angola broke out in 1961, with the start of the war for independence from Portugal, which ended in 1974 after 144 leftist Portuguese army captains toppled the dictatorship that had installed itself in 1926 in Portugal. The captains immediately declared a ceasefire in the wars in the country’s overseas provinces.

Civil war then erupted after the last Portuguese governor, Admiral Antonio Alva Rosa Coutinho, left Angola in November 1975. The armed conflict only came to an end in early 2002, after Unita leader Jonas Savimbi was killed in combat.

The country was devastated and one million people were killed in four decades of violence in Angola (which now has a population of around 17 million).

In fact, this was one of the arguments wielded by Falcone’s defence attorneys, who said the weapons helped defeat Savimbi and put an end to decades of violence.

A Portuguese-African businessman who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals told IPS that "the only people prosecuted for the illegal arms sales are Luanda’s protégés, Falcone and Gaydamak, but none of the roughly 30 Angolan leaders who received large sums of money are in the dock, because the trial is French and not international."

"Since states are sovereign, to prosecute them an international trial for violation of the arms embargo would have to be held, or at the very least there would have to be conventions on extraterritorial legal action, which French law does not take into account," he said.

The businessman, who divides his time between Lisbon and Luanda, said the French judiciary has demonstrated a strong degree of independence, by "not yielding to the pressure, given the harsh blow that this trial has represented for French companies that are doing big business in Angola."

"I am especially referring to Total, which would have preferred for the case not to have reached the courts," at a time when major interests in Angola are at stake, he said.

Angola recently overtook Nigeria as Africa’s largest oil producer.

Luanda has continued to pressure Paris, said the source, "sending messages that the investments of Total and other French companies will depend on the sentences handed down on Mar. 4 because for now, everything is bogged down."

By Mario de Queiroz
First published in TERAVIVA Europe on Tuesday, 4 November 2008   

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