from PEDRO AGOSTO in Luanda, Angola
LUANDA, (CAJ News) – DESPITE overwhelming indications of his involvement in a crooked overseas deal that swindled state coffers of €25 million, one of Angola’s most controversial politicians, once touted as the future president of the country, looks set to evade justice again.
Former Vice President, Manuel Vicente, his stepson Mirco Martins, José Maria de Lemos, who replaced Vicent as chairman of oil parastatal Sonangol, and Luís Maria, a Logistics Administrator of the company’s board of directors, are cited in the case that transpired in the former colonial master, Portugal.
Two years ago, the Portuguese Public Prosecutor’s Office (PPO) indicted the individuals in the tainted deal between the Sonair, which is Sonangol’s airline subsidiary, and individuals with links to the Transportes Aéreos Portugueses, which translates to Portuguese as ‘Air Transport’, abbreviated as (TPA), the country’s flag carrier.
Vicente appears the central figure in the scandal.
The deal in question culminated in Sonair conjuring up a service contract with TAP, which was to provide technical assistance to its Angolan counterpart.
Such services were never rendered and the money never recovered amid indications it lined up the pockets of the individuals and their alleged accomplices.
Three lawyers were also indicted on the shady scheme that the PPO denounced as “active corruption with damage to international trade, laundering and falsification of documents.”
World Air Logistics (Worldair) allegedly set up the scheme that saw money circulating between the two airlines end up in offshore accounts reportedly held by individuals with links to Sonangol.
Ever a controversy magnet, Vicente was at the time of the murky arrangements the chairman of the tainted company’s board of directors. He held the position between 2009 and 2012.
Vicente would after the tenure become Vice President to then-leader, Jose Eduardo dos Santos. Vicente held the position until 2017 as dos Santos exited after 38 years in power.
As second-in-command, there were hints the Luanda-born politician would assume the presidency when the lengthy reign of dos Santos came to an end but instead, in December 2016, the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (Portuguese: Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola or MPLA) chose João Lourenço, the Minister of Defence then, as the party’s presidential candidate for the 2017 election.
Meanwhile, the latest in a series of probes into the bogus Sonair/TAP deal, the Portuguese Constitutional Court last month reversed the decision by the Central Criminal Investigation Court (TCIC) to close the case.
Ivo Rosa, TCIC judge, last year halted the probe arguing the PPO had not gathered enough evidence to bring Vicente and co. to trial.
Rosa had also ordered the return of the properties the PPO seized on grounds that they were from the proceeds of the foggy deal between the airlines.
Last month’s move by the TCIC, paves way for a trial in Portugal but a date is yet to be set.
In Angola, it remains unknown if Vicente and alleged accomplices will be arraigned but with the politician shielded by parliamentary immunity, this is highly improbable.
Hence the overwhelming possibility the beleaguered politician will survive another legal storm.
It is not the first time Vicente has lurched into crisis over his role at Sonangol.
In June 2017, a Portuguese court ruled that he should face trial over bribery allegations brought against him by a prosecutor in February that year.
He was accused of bribing a magistrate with over $800 000 in order to shelve investigations into his deals at the company.
Last year, a Portuguese court ruled Angolan authorities must put the 63-year-old on trial but nothing has come out of that as yet after the issue sparked a diplomatic tiff between the two countries.
Despite that questionable reputation and abortive bid to ascend to the presidency, Vicente remains an influential figure in Angola as the president’s adviser on oil and gas.
In a recent chat with media, Lourenco cryptically shot down prevailing sentiment that his administration was shielding Vicente from prosecution.
“People say that just because Angola did that arm wrestling with Portugal and the person implicated was him (Vicente). I believe there are no other reasons for thinking this way. I believe it is only for this reason,” the president said at the time.
– CAJ News