Angolan President will not bargain with Isabel dos Santos
The President of Angola, João Lourenço, insisted this week that his government would not strike bargains with businesswoman Isabel dos Santos over millions allegedly stolen from state oil firm Sonangol.
In an interview with the German daily Deutsche Welle Africa (DW) the President spoke for the first time about ‘Luanda Leaks’ in which he made clear he would not be negotiating over legal cases in which the daughter of former President José Eduardo dos Santos is charged with corruption.
João Lourenço also stressed how ex-President José Eduardo dos Santos and ex-Vice-President Manuel Vicente cited immunity from prosecution to avoid the full weight of Angolan justice, but guaranteed the impartiality and independence of Angola’s legal institutions.
As to state reforms, including measures to fight corruption, the President said, “We are making all the reforms that are absolutely necessary.”
“Information that (we are negotiating with Isabel dos Santos) is completely unfounded. We would like to make clear that we are not in negotiations,” he said.
“The people involved in this type of acts of corruption had a period of six months grace in which to return the resources that they had improperly taken out of the country. Whoever did not avail themselves of this opportunity will have to face all the consequences which will be entirely their own responsibility”, said Lourenço.
“This period of grace ended in December 2018. We are now in February 2020 and therefore we think the time for negotiation is up not to mention that processes that are already in the courts are not negotiable outside of court,” added João Lourenço.
When asked if he wanted to see Isabel dos Santos “locked up in prison” the current president said, “This is a decision for the courts and I am not a judge.”
On the question of Isabel dos Santos running for the next presidential elections, João Lourenço said that the elections were still “far away” and opposing candidates would “appear when they appeared”.
“I don’t know anyone right now who, two years before the elections, has already presented their candidacy to run” he said adding that each was free to express their willingness and ambition to run.
When asked why the former Angolan president José Eduardo dos Santos was not being investigated for allegedly offering land at below market prices to his daughter Isabel dos Santos, Lourenço said, “You have to understand our laws. Former presidents enjoy immunity from prosecution for a period of five years.”
João Lourenço said that it was precisely because he had witnessed such high levels of corruption over many years and does not agree with the situation that today his government was in an anti-corruption drive.
“Today we have the opportunity of changing this state of affairs and we think that now is the time to do so,” he told DW Africa.
In other twist, the Portuguese tax authorities have frozen and seized the contents of the Portuguese bank accounts of a former President of Angolan’s oil company Sonangol over unpaid taxes.
The tax authorities are demanding more than €1million in unpaid taxes from Francisco de Lemos José Maria, the predecessor of Isabel dos Santos at Sonangol. The businessman has already appealed stating that the taxes are not owed.
The case goes back to 2012, when Francisco José Maria took the helm at Sonangol. At the time the new Sonangol president made frequent flights to Portugal where he had a high position at the bank Millennium bcp in which Sonangol has a 14% share.
During these trips, Francisco José Maria opened a bank account in Portugal with investment funds but gave the address of his brother even though he himself had never lived in Portugal.
In 2015, the bank sold the investment fund unit shares to which the businessman had subscribed and the tax authorities detected that José Maria had not declared the sale to them.
The notification for the due payment was sent to his brother’s address but Francisco José Maria did not reply because he didn’t live there. It was this that led to the seizure of funds in the businessman’s frozen accounts.