Suspected corruption at Sonangol ‘very serious’ – Transparency International

  • Lusa
  • 17 September 2021

Transparency International (TI) Portugal considers "very serious" the existence of evidence of Angolan money laundering involving Banco Comercial Português (BCP).

Transparency International (TI) on Thursday considered “very serious” the existence of evidence of Angolan money laundering involving Banco Comercial Português and demanded “full transparency” about the investigations, following a complaint by three NGOs involving Sonangol.

“Transparency International Portugal considers very serious the indications of continued money laundering practices involving Banco Comercial Português (BPC), demanding full transparency on the results of audits carried out by the Bank of Portugal (BoP) and the strengthening of the powers of banking supervision authorities in the European Union,” reads a statement, released following a complaint filed in Lisbon.

Three Angolan non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have filed a complaint in the Portuguese courts, alleging alleged corruption and money-laundering schemes carried out by former managers of Angolan state oil company Sonangol, including former vice-president Manuel Vicente.

“The complaint now presented against BCP, along with everything we know about Isabel dos Santos’ EuroBIC, denounces a pattern that cannot be ignored: the Portuguese banking system was or still is used to launder illicit capital from Angola,” said the executive director of TI Portugal, Karina Carvalho, cited in the statement.

“The Bank of Portugal does not seem to be able to stop the luxury laundromat installed in our country, nor to effectively enforce national and EU legislation, which is why we can only appeal for all audits carried out on banking institutions and their results to be made public, so that the exact extent of the problem can be understood, as well as the BdP’s actions in preventing these crimes,” she added.

The chairwoman of TI Portugal, Susana Cardoso, said, in turn, that the BdP “seems to have great difficulties in imposing on banks the adoption of enhanced measures of identification and diligence, especially when it comes to business relationships and operations involving high-risk third countries, such as Angola.

At a press conference in Luanda today, representatives of the Mãos Livres (Free Hands) Association, the Regional Forum for University Development (Fordu) and the Omunga Association, linked to the defence of human rights and the exercise of citizenship, said that a complaint had been filed 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 and the former directors of Sonangol, the Millenium BCP bank (Banco Comercial Português) 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 people, 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 a sphere where 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 said.

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

The Angolan activist said he believed in Angolan justice and explained that the complaint comes nine years after the facts, after an “attenuated process [of investigations]”.

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