- Isabel dos Santos is currently facing a litany of charges of siphoning public funds using offshore channels.
- Supporters say the creation of a fund would be an innovative way of ensuring that cash seized from investigations can benefit those it should have benefited.
- The effect of looting of public resources in Angola has cost more than the country’s debt to China.
The late José Eduardo dos Santos’ near 40-year stranglehold on Angola’s presidential office was characterised by obscene pillage of national resources and economic meltdown. Thanks to the country’s current regime, billions of looted funds are being steadily recovered.
In a bid to redistribute the stolen wealth, Angola is considering the creation of a fund to manage approximately $15bn in assets recovered by the state in anti-corruption investigations. The effect of looting of public resources in Angola has cost more than the country’s debt to China.
The country is in debt distress and the funds that were lost to the Santos’ family could have settled a significant amount of the country’s sovereign debt and aided in development. With more funds being recovered, Angola looks to redistribute wealth that was monopolised by political elites in the previous government.
The looting ‘enterprise’
The National Asset Recovery Service (SENRA) reported that the government has already recovered over $5.2bn in embezzled money, part in cash and part in assets, with more than $10bn added in February 2022 following final court rulings in 715 corruption cases.
According to the country’s minister of justice Francisco Queiroz, the proceeds of plunder were recovered from Britain, Switzerland, Singapore and Bermuda, among others. After taking office in 2017, President Joao Lourenco launched an anti-corruption drive to recoup assets suspected to have been embezzled under his predecessor, Jose Eduardo dos Santos.
Sullied by nepotism, Dos Santos, 79, was accused of appointing relatives and friends to top positions during his 38-year presidency. They allegedly siphoned off Angola’s oil wealth, leaving behind a nation drenched in abject poverty.
His son, José Filomeno dos Santos, was sentenced in 2020 to five years in prison for embezzling up to $1.5 billion when he was heading the Angolan sovereign wealth fund. Meanwhile, his eldest daughter Isabel dos Santos is currently facing a litany of charges of siphoning public funds using offshore channels.
According to SENRA, members of the dos Santos family, former government officials and ex-managers of state-owned companies illegally transferred some $150bn abroad between 2001 and 2017. The family have denied wrongdoing and claim they are subject to a politically motivated witch-hunt.
Since 2017, when João Lourenço became president, the government has stepped up efforts to recover assets allegedly stolen during the four-decade presidency of his predecessor. The assets are to be combined in a fund which could target real estate and other investment opportunities, according to reports.
The fund will benefit the people of Angola
Supporters say the creation of such a fund would be an innovative way of ensuring that cash seized from investigations can benefit those it should have benefited the first-time round – the people of Angola, millions of whom are crying out for investment in public services.
The creation of a fund could also help to formalise negotiations with foreign governments over the return of ill-gotten gains which are believed to be banked abroad – if properly negotiated, asset-sharing agreements can have benefits for both parties.
Of course, as well as being skilled and savvy investors, the fund's managers must be dedicated public servants beyond the reach of political interference. Such independence would go a long way to dispelling accusations that the current government is pursuing a vendetta against its predecessor.
Achieving full transparency may be tough to achieve in a country where rent-seeking has been so deeply woven into the fabric of public life. But if the fund proves truly independent – and profitable – it could prove a much-needed revenue source for Angolans and a valuable model for the rest of the continent.
Angola’s battle against corruption continues
Despite having retrieved approximately $15bn in stolen assets, SENRA believes that there could be well over $100bn in unrecovered assets that could top up the investment fund if repatriated. In 2019, the country recovered an excess of $3bn stolen from the country’s sovereign wealth and the 2022 recovery shows that there are more recoveries likely to be made in future.
The anti-corruption drive in Angola aims to erase the influence of the former first family, recover lost assets and privatise state firms. It is also understood that the Lourenco government seeks to foster a culture of transparency and accountability in public finance management, a model which was deeply eroded by the Santos’ regime.
Sources: African Business; Al Jazeera.