IN­VES­TI­GA­TION / Where did An­gola’s money go?

Af­ter its civil war ended in 2002, An­gola earned over $600bn from oil which it could have ploughed into its re­con­struc­tion. In­stead, much of the money went miss­ing. Cash-strapped and in­debted, the new gov­ern­ment is des­per­ate to get it back


Af­ter its civil war ended in 2002, An­gola earned over $600bn from oil which it could have ploughed into its re­con­struc­tion. In­stead, much of the money went miss­ing. Cash-strapped, the new gov­ern­ment is des­per­ate to get it back


AAt the end of the dev­as­tat­ing civil war, in 2002, An­golans had the chance to re­build their bro­ken coun­try us­ing its boun­ti­ful re­sources of oil, gas and di­a­monds. It was the start of a com­mod­ity su­per­cy­cle and in the next decade and a half the coun­try earned more than $600bn in ex­port rev­enue. But economists tell us that at least 15% of the coun­try’s earn­ings were di­verted into pri­vate ac­counts. Many re­con­struc­tion projects were badly run and hugely over­priced, thwart­ing the ma­jor­ity’s hopes for bet­ter clin­ics and schools. They cheered when new Pres­i­dent João Lourenço promised a crack­down on cor­rup­tion. The Africa Report in­ves­ti­gates what hap­pened in An­gola, in­side the sys­tem and with the people who ran it, and asks whether Lourenço can get the money back.


Hours af­ter his re­lease from Viana max­i­mum­se­cu­rity prison, clutch­ing an An­golan pass­port in one hand and a Swiss pass­port in the other, mul­ti­mil­lion­aire Jean-claude Bas­tos de Morais stood in front of a por­trait of Pres­i­dent João Lourenço and grinned for the cam­era. The head of Quan­tum Global, the com­pany that man­aged $5bn in as­sets for An­gola’s sov­er­eign wealth fund (SWF), Bas­tos had spent six months in one of the coun­try’s tough­est gaols. Bas­tos was free in March 2019 thanks to an undis­closed set­tle­ment with the SWF so that he would not face charges.

Soon af­ter the photo was taken, Bas­tos flew to Dubai. Close friends say they have not heard from him since. “They’ve [the An­golan au­thor­i­ties] taken ev­ery­thing, but he’ll start all over again,” a loyal friend told The Africa Report in a Zurich beer hall. “He’s done a lot for African cul­ture.” Few doubt that the quirky, charis­matic Bas­tos will bounce back. There was “some­thing manic, al­most mes­sianic about his busi­ness plans for Africa,” one of his ac­quain­tances told us.

In Septem­ber 2018, Bas­tos was ar­rested, taken to Viana and held with­out charges. On the same day, José Filomeno dos San­tos (‘Zenú’), a close friend of Bas­tos and the son of for­mer pres­i­dent José Eduardo dos San­tos, was sent to São Paulo prison hospi­tal.

Both men in­sist on their in­no­cence. For many An­golans, their de­ten­tion was a sym­bolic break with ex-pres­i­dent Dos San­tos, who had been in power for 38 years.

A free­lancer for pro­fes­sional ser­vices firm De­loitte, Bas­tos landed with big dreams in Luanda in 2004, just as the oil-fired econ­omy was revving up. He called Marcel Kruse, a

‘He was this mul­ti­lin­gual, charis­matic per­son, a young guy full of ideas’

col­league on a cou­ple of ill-starred ven­tures in Switzer­land. “Marcel, we’re go­ing to do in­vest­ment bank­ing,” Bas­tos told him in Septem­ber 2004. A few weeks later, Kruse was with Bas­tos in Luanda look­ing at a num­ber of projects.

Two years later, they were sit­ting around a board­room ta­ble with people like the step­son of the head of the state oil com­pany, So­nan­gol, and the son of Pres­i­dent Dos San­tos. When Zenú joined the project, Banco Kwanza In­vest – as it is now called – took off. Bas­tos, work­ing solo, clinched a con­tract to man­age some of the cen­tral bank’s gold re­serves.

One day, Bas­tos breezed into Kruse’s of­fice: “Give me your car. Now this Range Rover is yours.” The ac­coun­tant re­coiled at the prospect of giv­ing up his trusty Toy­ota. Bas­tos said that their An­golan coun­ter­parts would not take them se­ri­ously if they did not look the part.

This was the Luanda zeit­geist. A hun­dred me­tres from the of­fice, a for­tu­nate few sat at cafés over­look­ing the bay, sip­ping cock­tails at $30 a throw. Along the street, a line of Hum­mers and lux­ury 4x4s cruised past.

An ex­pa­tri­ate army of pe­tro­leum engi­neers, trade-fi­nance spe­cial­ists and di­a­mond deal­ers had joined the oil bo­nanza. By 2010, Luanda was the world’s most ex­pen­sive city for ex­pats. It went from war zone to boom town. Many An­golans watched, puz­zling how their coun­try could pro­duce so much wealth while so lit­tle fil­tered into their daily lives – into schools, clin­ics, state com­pa­nies manag­ing the elec­tric­ity and wa­ter sup­plies.

Bas­tos’ as­cent in Luanda was easy to un­der­stand, ac­cord­ing to an as­so­ciate. “When I met him first he had Rasta hair, he was a bass player […] he was this mul­ti­lin­gual, charis­matic per­son, a young guy full of ideas.”

As the e con­omy took off to­wards a world-beat­ing 23% growth in a year, Luanda’s nightlife ex­ploded. Once a sandy land­ing ground for small fishing boats, the Ilha do Cabo hosted a strip of night­clubs that would fit in Rio de Janiero’s up­scale Gávea neigh­bour­hood.

An in­vet­er­ate so­cialiser, Bas­tos fit­ted right in. “Jean-claude would al­ways have his crowd around him,” said his as­so­ciate. “[It was] kind of fun be­cause you al­ways met new people […], a bit more in­ter­est­ing than go­ing out for pizza.”

As Quan­tum’s busi­ness boomed, so did Bas­tos’s pro­file. He be­came an in­vest­ment guru on the Africa con­fer­ence cir­cuit, threw par­ties for A-list celebri­ties and, like many in Luanda’s nomen­klatura, took to us­ing pri­vate jets. He made much of his plans to “re­ward in­no­va­tion” through an an­nual Africa in­no­va­tion prize.

Bas­tos and pres­i­den­tial scion Zenú be­came in­sep­a­ra­ble friends, holed up for hours in busi­ness dis­cus­sions at the Banco Kwanza of­fices. It was lead­ing to yet an­other coup de théâtre – the launch­ing of the Fundo Sober­ano de An­gola, the coun­try’s $5bn SWF in 2012. Zenú ended up as chair­man. Then Bas­tos’s Swiss-based com­pany Quan­tum Global was appointed to man­age the SWF’S as­sets.

Ques­tions quickly arose about the lack of a com­pet­i­tive ten­der for the as­set-management con­tract, con­flicts of in­ter­est and high fees. The mam­moth Port of Caio was launched by Bas­tos’s com­pany, which “in­vited” the SWF to in­vest. This was not a con­flict of

in­ter­est, Bas­tos told Bri­tain’s The Guardian news­pa­per: “We view these in­vest­ments as hav­ing aligned in­ter­est.” Equally, Bas­tos told the Swiss weekly Die Welt­woche that crit­i­cism of the fees earned by his com­pany from the SWF – more than $90m be­tween May 2014 and De­cem­ber 2015 – was mis­placed. “We have stan­dards which cor­re­spond to in­ter­na­tional norms. We re­ceive 2% of the fund’s volume plus 20% of the gen­er­ated cap­i­tal gain,” ex­plained Bas­tos.

Many busi­ness­peo­ple we spoke to saw the SWF as part of the pa­tron­age sys­tem. One ex­plained: “The SWF was cre­ated in a mo­ment of hubris. There had been a slow build-up. Every bank had to have a Dos San­tos in the struc­ture. The next step was to give Zenú the fund. That was a step too far. Then every­one’s ears pricked up.”

In Jan­uary 2018, Lourenço – who be­came pres­i­dent in Septem­ber 2017 – sacked the board of the SWF, ap­point­ing a new chair­man to guarantee “a more efficient and transparen­t use of the state’s strate­gic re­sources”.


Grey­ing el­e­gantly, with an earnest, mous­ta­chioed smile and hand out­stretched to greet a head of state or multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tion boss, Manuel Vi­cente looks every inch the chief ex­ec­u­tive. In fact, it has been seven years since he stepped down from the top job at So­nan­gol to be­come An­gola’s econ­omy min­is­ter and then vice-pres­i­dent. Vi­cente’s im­print on So­nan­gol is clear. He presided over the com­pany’s fastest ex­pan­sion in its four-decade his­tory.

In those years, So­nan­gol was the coun­try’s best-func­tion­ing en­tity, gen­er­at­ing most of the funds for the war against UNITA rebels, which ended with the death of their leader Jonas Sav­imbi in 2002. Then So­nan­gol went on to un­der­write the gov­ern­ment’s na­tion­al­ist ap­proach to post-war re­con­struc­tion.

So­nan­gol’s role is key to un­der­stand­ing what de­railed the post-war eco­nomic plan – a pro­gramme to re­build us­ing oil and di­a­mond rev­enue to fix war-dam­aged roads and bridges, but also to mod­ernise and di­ver­sify the econ­omy. Most of the big devel­op­ment projects have run out of fund­ing, yet Luanda’s Centre for Stud­ies and Sci­en­tific Re­search reck­ons that $189bn was in­vested over­seas be­tween 20022015 by An­golan com­pa­nies and in­di­vid­u­als.

For Ri­cardo Soares de Oliviera, a pro­fes­sor at Ox­ford Univer­sity, So­nan­gol be­came a par­al­lel state dur­ing the war, all un­der the control of the pres­i­dency. When funds ran low, it was So­nan­gol ex­ec­u­tives who were trusted to ne­go­ti­ate com­plex oil-backed loans or set up opaque ve­hi­cles to service these fi­nan­cial com­mit­ments. And when the rul­ing elite swapped its Marx­ist pro­cliv­i­ties for crony cap­i­tal­ism, “So­nan­gol was an is­land of com­pe­tence thriv­ing in tan­dem with the im­plo­sion of most other An­golan state in­sti­tu­tions,” Soares says.

A se­nior of­fi­cial work­ing on post-war re­con­struc­tion told us: “So­nan­gol was the cash cow, called upon to en­sure there were re­sources, but there was no plan, no struc­tures.”

Amid the geopo­lit­i­cal and fi­nan­cial chaos of the early 2000s, there was lit­tle in­ter­na­tional in­ter­est in re­build­ing An­gola. “There was this over­whelm­ing need to pro­vide goods and ser­vices to the pop­u­la­tion that is fi­nally at peace […]. It’s the tyranny of the ur­gent,” the of­fi­cial said. “So­nan­gol was a real-es­tate de­vel­oper, they were a bank owner, they ran an avi­a­tion com­pany. […] They had more people devoted to things that were non-core busi­ness than were core busi­ness,” the of­fi­cial added.

At the centre of this vast op­er­a­tion em­ploy­ing thou­sands of people on four con­ti­nents and con­trol­ling a par­al­lel bud­get of off­shore ac­counts and bil­lions of dol­lars of phys­i­cal and fi­nan­cial as­sets was Vi­cente. “He is like an oc­to­pus,” one of Vi­cente’s ex-col­leagues told The Africa Report. “Ev­ery­body does what he says. He has a lot of people around him that control ev­ery­thing. […] He’s a gentleman.”

It was his savoir-faire, dis­cre­tion and loy­alty that won Vi­cente back­ing from Pres­i­dent Dos San­tos. Out­wardly ami­able, Vi­cente is a tough ne­go­tia­tor, as for­eign oil com­pa­nies have found. His re­la­tions with long-time colo­nial power Por­tu­gal are am­biva­lent. When So­nan­gol took a stake in Por­tu­gal’s Galp En­er­gia, Vi­cente an­nounced: “We are the bosses, we will dic­tate the rules of the game.”

A test for the Lis­bon-luanda axis came with the trial of Or­lando Figueira, a Por­tuguese prosecutor, ar­rested in 2016 on charges of re­ceiv­ing a $850,000 bribe to sus­pend an in­quiry into Vi­cente’s busi­ness af­fairs. An in­dict­ment was is­sued against Vi­cente.

Af­ter ac­ced­ing to the pres­i­dency in 2017, Lourenço called Por­tu­gal’s case against Vi­cente an in­fringe­ment of sovereignt­y. Last May, a Por­tuguese court ruled that the Vi­cente case should be trans­ferred to Luanda. Wel­com­ing this, Marcelo Re­belo de Souza, Por­tu­gal’s pres­i­dent, said the de­ci­sion had “re­moved an ir­ri­tant” in bi­lat­eral re­la­tions. For An­golans, it showed Vi­cente’s in­flu­ence: enough for the Pres­i­dent to de­fend him against their coun­try’s clos­est Euro­pean ally.


Al­though Vi­cente had nei­ther a com­bat record dur­ing the war nor a long­stand­ing mem­ber­ship of the rul­ing MPLA, he had strong con­tacts with some of the top mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers. His ties to Dos San­tos’s top security ad­viser are a case in point. Com­mon busi­ness in­ter­ests and a taste for the finer things in life helped build friend­ships.

“Vi­cente and his friend Gen­eral Kopelipa would take a plane to France to pick up cases of wine from the Pétrus chateau in the Bordeaux re­gion,” said a busi­ness col­league. At more than $2,500 a bot­tle, it is an ex­pen­sive wine.

The two also shared in­ter­ests in Chi­naAn­gola busi­ness, the main driver of the post-war re­con­struc­tion ef­fort. As head of the Gabi­nete de Re­con­strução Naçional, Gen­eral Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias Júnior, known as ‘Kopelipa’, con­trolled that re­build­ing pro­gramme, and as Dos San­tos’s clos­est ad­viser, he was also the regime’s security capo di tutti capi.

Al­though the sec­ond-most pow­er­ful man in the coun­try, Kopelipa was rarely in the pub­lic arena. To his ir­ri­ta­tion, he made news in Por­tu­gal when he bought two port wine es­tates in the Douro Val­ley with­out visit­ing them first.

A dap­per man with a taste for well- cut Ital­ian suits, he would glide into high-level ne­go­ti­a­tions and whis­per into the ear of the most se­nior of­fi­cial be­fore glid­ing out. A top diplo­mat who used to go swim­ming with Kopelipa said he seemed to have no in­ter­est in Marx­ism. “We would sit on the beach and he would say: ‘Look at us, we’re just like you guys, we want to do busi­ness and fix the econ­omy.’” But Kopelipa blamed rebel leader Sav­imbi’s war for most of An­gola’s prob­lems.

As An­gola be­came the lead­ing sup­plier of crude oil to the roar­ing Chi­nese econ­omy in the early 2000s, and by turns Bei­jing’s biggest trad­ing part­ner in Africa, it set up a barter model. The China-africa Re­search Ini­tia­tive re­ports that China de­liv­ered loans to An­gola worth $42.8bn be­tween 2000 and 2017. That meant re­source-backed loans from Bei­jing to fi­nance roads and power sta­tions to be built by Chi­nese com­pa­nies.

The com­mon point in re­source-backed loans was opac­ity and off-bud­get spend­ing. Bil­lions went un­ac­counted for on what the IMF calls “quasi-fis­cal oper­a­tions”. An of­fi­cial told us: “that means rev­enue that So­nan­gol re­ceived but which never made it to the Banco Naçional de An­gola”, with its im­pos­ing colo­nial-era head­quar­ters over­look­ing the ocean. Pro­fes­sor Alves da Rocha of the Catholic Univer­sity in Luanda points to find­ings by its Centre for Stud­ies and Sci­en­tific Re­search that some

‘So­nan­gol was the cash cow, but there was no plan, no struc­tures’ SE­NIOR OF­FI­CIAL IN THE GOV­ERN­MENT

$28bn from state bud­gets be­tween 2002 and 2015 went un­ac­counted for.

Ini­tially, there was a sense of or­gan­ised chaos in the meet­ings with Chi­nese of­fi­cials. “So we ar­rive in China and for the next week we had stretch lim­ou­sines and po­lice mo­tor­cy­cle out­rid­ers,” re­called a banker on one of the early trips. In­ter­preters were at a pre­mium: “Crazy […] [in] meet­ing af­ter meet­ing […] a lot would get lost in trans­la­tion.”

Sud­denly ev­ery­thing scaled up, he said. One bank had been doing small deals with small hedge funds in the US, then it was walk­ing away with $180m of busi­ness. Af­ter two years, it had done $2bn worth of deals with China.

There was a syn­chronic­ity be­tween China and An­gola, the banker said. “The re­al­ity was that China found itself in a mo­ment when they were awash with dol­lars […] so they had money to spend and they had the right skills and all these people they could send over­seas.” And An­gola’s oil was the es­sen­tial feed­stock for those ties.

The projects be­came more and more grandiose, like the $3.5bn spent on the Kil­amba Ki­axi city about 30km out­side Luanda, and the sprawl­ing Luanda-bengo Spe­cial Eco­nomic Zone with 76 fac­to­ries, most of which are dor­mant for lack of in­puts and lo­cal skills.

This year, Lourenço’s gov­ern­ment has an­nounced plans to sell off parts of the zone to pri­vate com­pa­nies. Look­ing back, the se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial said: “There is plenty of blame to go around. There is the in­ef­fi­ciency of our de­ci­sion-mak­ing sys­tem, the pa­tron­age in the bu­reau­cracy. […] There’s also a lit­tle bit of re­spon­si­bil­ity [for] our part­ners, in­clud­ing the Chi­nese, who were in­volved in the in­fra­struc­ture work.” Even­tu­ally it comes back to An­gola, he con­cluded: “In the end, we were the loan tak­ers and de­ci­sion tak­ers, so over­sight needed to have taken place.”

Al­though Kopelipa may find it dif­fi­cult to ad­just to the new era, his name is yet to sur­face pub­licly in the spate of fi­nan­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tions an­nounced by Lourenço.


Ruth­less Vladimiro Ca­posso rose up the ranks of the rul­ing party, mak­ing friends and in­flu­enc­ing people. When the coun­try dropped com­mu­nism for crony cap­i­tal­ism, he built up his for­tune to join the nouveau

‘The Chi­nese built badqual­ity roads […] so the Por­tuguese can come and service them’ POR­TUGUESE MEP ANA GOMES

riche in a coun­try with con­stant power cuts and tap wa­ter that comes out in a muddy and rusty trickle, if at all. In fact, Vladimiro is the pro­tag­o­nist of Predadores (Preda­tors), the 2005 novel by cel­e­brated writer, Pepetela. It de­picts an An­gola haunt­ingly close to re­al­ity.

It was the era of what Luanda-based econ­o­mist Da Rocha calls the mini-golden Age. State rev­enue boomed af­ter the war ended in 2002, as did cap­i­tal flight. It was also the time when An­gola turned the ta­bles on its for­mer coloniser, Por­tu­gal.

Cash-strapped Por­tuguese busi­nesses wel­comed An­golan in­vestors in banks, tele­coms, me­dia and en­ergy. By 2013, An­golan in­vestors were reck­oned to own at least 7% of the shares on the Lis­bon stock ex­change. Two decades ear­lier, Isabel dos San­tos, the for­mer pres­i­dent’s daugh­ter, had returned to Luanda to launch her busi­ness ca­reer. She has be­come the pub­lic face of An­golan money buy­ing up Por­tu­gal.

Isabel made her first mil­lion aged just 18, ac­cord­ing to one of her friends in Lis­bon. Lev Le­viev, a colour­ful di­a­mond ty­coon from Is­rael, “gave her” his li­cence to sell An­golan di­a­monds “be­cause he didn’t want it”.

Af­ter pri­vate school and a de­gree from King’s Col­lege, London, Dos San­tos’s first re­tail ven­ture was open­ing the Mi­ami Beach restau­rant on Ilha do Cabo while she worked for a much-crit­i­cised rub­bish-col­lec­tion com­pany.

“She re­minds me of Tony So­prano,” says a reg­u­lar vis­i­tor to Luanda, re­fer­ring to the TV series in which the Ital­ian-amer­i­can mob­ster is also in­volved in an un­pop­u­lar waste-management busi­ness. Un­like So­prano, Isabel seems to have a bliss­ful fam­ily life, mar­ried to Dan­ish-con­golese art col­lec­tor Sindika Dokolo, with whom she has four chil­dren. Her In­sta­gram feed shows her jet­ting across the world from cor­po­rate board­rooms to char­ity balls. Also un­like So­prano, Isabel in­sists she is a self-made busi­ness leader who has not ben­e­fited from her fam­ily’s po­si­tion. Some of the hos­til­ity that the fam­ily now faces comes down to over­reach. In June 2016, Pres­i­dent Dos San­tos appointed Isabel to take over So­nan­gol, bat­tered by fall­ing prices and production. “It was a poi­soned pill. It was go­ing to dam­age her for­ever. Why do it?” asked a Luanda businessma­n.

The new Pres­i­dent sacked her two months af­ter he took over and her stew­ard­ship of So­nan­gol is un­der de­tailed scru­tiny. Yet she’s fight­ing back with in­ves­ti­ga­tions of her ri­vals in the nomen­klatura.

Some Por­tuguese of­fi­cials like José Manuel Bar­roso, a for­mer prime min­is­ter, cul­ti­vated close ties with Luanda and op­posed in­ves­ti­ga­tions into money laun­der­ing in Por­tu­gal. Bar­roso is now a non-ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of Gold­man Sachs, which worked closely with Dos San­tos’ gov­ern­ment. In 2015, the Paris­based OECD con­demned Lis­bon’s fail­ures to in­ves­ti­gate cor­rup­tion and fi­nan­cial crime.

Agree­ing with the OECD, Ana Gomes, a so­cial­ist rep­re­sent­ing Por­tu­gal in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment said: “There are too many Por­tuguese will­ing to put them­selves at the service of the klep­to­crats; there are also many will­ing to put them­selves at the service of the Chi­nese.” It is a sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship for Por­tuguese busi­ness, she added: “The Chi­nese built bad-quality roads […]; that means the Por­tuguese can come and service them.”

Lis­bon’s tree-lined Avenida da Liber­dade, with lux­ury stores such as Louis Vuit­ton and Prada, be­came a prom­e­nade for Luanda’s monied clique. But they kept a low pro­file at home. A businessma­n, split­ting his time be­tween London, Lis­bon and Luanda, ex­plained the think­ing: “They weren’t bling-bling like in Rus­sia and Nigeria. The code was: ‘Do ev­ery­thing you want out­side, but be care­ful in Luanda. Let’s make money here and have fun else­where.’”


It was the great prom­ise at Lourenço’s in­au­gu­ra­tion in Septem­ber 2017 – his pledge to crack down on cor­rup­tion and get se­ri­ous about devel­op­ment. “No one is so rich and pow­er­ful that they can­not be pun­ished, and no one is so poor that they can­not be pro­tected,” he told a cheer­ing crowd.

Ex­perts are re­luc­tant to put a num­ber on how much money went miss­ing. One well-trav­elled econ­o­mist said a con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mate was that 15% of state rev­enue was lost be­tween

‘The [oil] sig­na­ture busi­ness, that was the big bit that fed the whole in­dus­try’ A BANKER WHO WISHED TO RE­MAIN ANONY­MOUS

2002 and 2017. Oil rev­enues in that pe­riod to­talled be­tween $600bn and $1trn, mean­ing that $90bn to $150bn would have dis­ap­peared.

A banker ex­plained: “The [oil] sig­na­ture bonuses, that was the big bit that fed the whole in­dus­try. You’ve got to be talk­ing about $150bn."

“The or­ders of mag­ni­tude are huge,” the econ­o­mist agreed. “There are so many things go­ing miss­ing, go­ing bump in the mid­dle of the night. Even the fis­cal data is com­plete crap, the IMF knows that,” said the econ­o­mist. “The whole sys­tem is de­signed for pur­poses other than good management. No sys­tem is per­fect; this one is com­pletely ka­put.”

And yet not all the ill-got­ten gains are the pro­ceeds of crime in An­golan law, ex­plained a vet­eran banker. Many are hugely in­flated oil service con­tracts with pro­duc­ers such as Chevron, Eni and To­tal or with com­mod­ity traders such as Trafigura. These are added as ‘costs of doing busi­ness’ and carved out of the state’s share of the rev­enue.

This could make it more dif­fi­cult to find the cash, ac­cord­ing to a banker who knows Luanda well: “I don’t quite get where the money is. I imag­ine it would flow into a Swiss bank account and it would have to flow out. I can’t im­age you would leave $20bn in a Swiss bank. […] While you have your man­sions in London and Por­tu­gal, you have your vast tracts of land in Latin Amer­ica.”

Yet if the gov­ern­ment was de­ter­mined to track the money, it could do so, he said. The cen­tral bank could ap­ply to all the se­crecy ju­ris­dic­tions for in­for­ma­tion. That would iden­tify some of the main leak­ages.

‘The re­forms are about keep­ing the ship afloat rather than chang­ing the course of nav­i­ga­tion’ PRO­FES­SOR RI­CARDO SOARES DE OLIVEIRA

Af­ter that the real work would have to start, ac­cord­ing to as­set-trac­ing spe­cial­ist Ka­mal Shah. “To re­cover half-de­cent amounts, the gov­ern­ment needs to be so com­mit­ted […] spend­ing sig­nif­i­cant amounts of money on in­ves­ti­ga­tions, pros­e­cu­tions. Many gov­ern­ments do it only half-heart­edly. ”

An­gola’s dire eco­nomic out­look – oil production and the econ­omy are fore­cast to shrink over the next three years – only in­creases the pres­sure for Lourenço to show he means what he says. In al­most two years, he has in­tro­duced a law for the repa­tri­a­tion of il­licit fi­nan­cial flows, has put some se­nior fig­ures from the pre­vi­ous regime be­hind bars and is pledg­ing to con­tinue in­ves­ti­gat­ing cor­rup­tion.

Lourenço’s acts have had an im­pact on the coun­try, says Por­tu­gal’s Ana Gomes. “These things had a lib­er­at­ing im­pact on An­golan so­ci­ety. Sud­denly there was a guy from the MPLA act­ing de­ci­sively against the top MPLA klep­toc­racy. […] But the ques­tion re­mains: is that real change or just re­plac­ing the top of the klep­toc­racy by others?”

Ac­cord­ing to Soares, the aca­demic, if the oil price went back up to $110 a bar­rel, these rel­a­tively small re­forms would be thrown over­board. “The re­forms are so mod­est, they are about keep­ing the ship afloat rather than chang­ing the course of nav­i­ga­tion.” For now, Lourenço’s anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paign is focused on a nar­row range of po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary tar­gets he can take on with­out trig­ger­ing in­sta­bil­ity or threat­en­ing the in­ter­ests of his key al­lies.

“He [Lourenço] focused on a lot of these bla­tant cases of things that ev­ery­body knew should not be al­lowed to hap­pen. What that has done though is that it has now sent a sig­nal to An­golans that it is pos­si­ble to change,” said a se­nior of­fi­cial in Luanda. “There are hun­dreds of cases of al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion and mis­use of re­sources and so on. But one can­not help but to con­clude that there is an el­e­ment of selec­tiv­ity. A lot has been done, much more needs to get done.”

Luanda in­sid­ers talk of a plan to claw back $100bn of the miss­ing money, which would pay some im­por­tant bills. Gov­ern­ment emis­saries have been calling lob­by­ists and in­ves­ti­ga­tors in Western cap­i­tals to find where the stolen money has been stashed. But a se­ri­ous ef­fort to get the money will take a gar­gan­tuan cam­paign, and there is no sign that it is hap­pen­ing yet.

Af­ter the civil war An­gola’s cap­i­tal Luanda be­came a boom­town of flash cars and fast cash

Jean-claude Bas­tos De Morais got pally with the An­golan elite and be­fore long was manag­ing the as­sets of the sov­er­eign wealth fund

National oil com­pany So­nan­gol op­er­ated as a par­al­lel state dur­ing the An­golan civil war

Charm­ing and ur­bane vice-pres­i­dent Manuel Vi­cente drove a hard bar­gain when it came to Por­tuguese in­vest­ments

Dis­creet security head Gen­eral Kopelipa had the ear of rich and pow­er­ful José Eduardo dos San­tos

Di­a­monds, a rub­bish­col­lec­tion op­er­a­tion and a once great national oil com­pany are all part of Isabel dos San­tos's var­ied busi­ness ca­reer

Some crit­ics say Pres­i­dent João Lourenço’s an­ti­cor­rup­tion drive has been ‘se­lec­tive’

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