Portuguese prosecutors charge Angolan VP with corruption
Portuguese prosecutors on Thursday charged Angolan Vice President Manuel Vicente with corruption over allegations he bribed a magistrate with roughly 760,000 euros ($800,000) in 2012 to drop two investigations against him.
Vicente, who was the president of Angolan national oil company Sonangol at the time of the alleged crimes, is charged with bribery, money laundering and document falsification, the public prosecutors’ office said in a statement.
His alleged accomplices, his lawyer Paulo Blanco and his business representative in Portugal, Armindo Pires, were also charged over the affair, as was the Portuguese magistrate who he is accused of having bribed, magistrate Orlando Figueira.
Figueira, who was arrested in 2016 and is currently under house arrest, was charged with accepting bribes, document falsification, money laundering and violation of the confidentiality of an official investigation.
Authorities seized about 512,000 euros which the magistrate had placed in bank accounts and safes in Portugal and Andorra as part of their investigation dubbed “Operation Fizz”, the prosecutors’ office said.
According to Portuguese media reports, one of the investigations which Figueira allegedly dropped in exchange for cash centred on the origin of funds which Vicente used to buy a luxury apartment in a Lisbon suburb.
The Angolan vice president will be notified of his indictment through an official letter sent to the authorities in Angola, an oil and diamond rich former Portuguese colony in southwestern Africa, the prosecutors’ office said.
Vicente has denied any involvement in the affair, saying shortly after Figueira’s arrest that he had “absolutely nothing to do with any payment”.
– ‘Never been questioned’ –
Vicente’s lawyer Rui Patricio said Thursday that his client had not been notified of any charges being brought against him.
“I am astounded that my client has been accused, not only because he had nothing to do with the facts mentioned but also because he has never even been questioned about them,” Patricio said in a statement sent to Portuguese news agency Lusa.
The fact that Vicente was not questioned “invalidates the (legal) process,” he added, according to Lusa.
In 2012, attempts to investigate alleged money laundering and tax evasion by several Angolan officials in Portugal sent a chill in relations between the two countries, which have strong economic ties.
Portugal is Angola’s main source of imports and Portuguese companies are active in banking and construction in the vast African country.
In turn, Angolan investors including state oil company Sonangol — currently headed by billionaire businesswoman Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of Angola’s President Jose Eduardo dos Santos — have built up significant stakes in Portugal’s top telecommunications firms and banks.
Dos Santos announced earlier this month he will not run in elections in August, signalling the end to 37 years in power and naming his Defence Minister Joao Manuel Goncalves Lourenco as the candidate to succeed him.
Until news of the corruption scandal emerged last year, Vicente had been strongly tipped as a potential successor to Dos Santos, who has ruled Angola since 1979.
Angola’s vast oil wealth has not trickled down to the masses and critics accuse both dos Santos and his family of amassing huge wealth by siphoning off state funds.