Angola: ‘By cancelling contracts that ripped off Sonangol, we annoyed a lot of people’ – Isabel dos Santos
- Sep 19, 2020
- Club of Mozambique
Businesswoman Isabel dos Santos says she “annoyed a lot of people” by cancelling contracts that hurt Sonangol, including those of the AAA insurance company, revealing that accounts containing a lot of money from people linked to the oil company are not surprising.
The daughter of former Angolan president José Eduardo dos Santos, who was chairman of Sonangol’s board of directors (PCA) for about 18 months and is accused of alleged mismanagement and embezzlement of funds in the oil company, was speaking to MFM radio on Friday in an interview centred on the days when she led the company between June 2016 and November 2017, a period in which she says she identified and tried to solve several problems.
She also stressed that she presented the diagnosis to the executive at the time, presided over by José Eduardo dos Santos, and also informed the then Angolan presidential candidate João Lourenço, who would go on to exonerate her, regretting that after the departure of her team, people and firms allegedly involved in the schemes that hurt the company returned to Sonangol.
Isabel dos Santos said she accepted the invitation to go “to save Sonangol” which was in a pre-bankruptcy situation, knowing that there was a “political price” to pay, but with “mission spirit”.
One of the tasks she took on was to “fight corruption” that existed in Sonangol, to identify where the money was going and why the oil company was losing so much money, having realised that there was over billing in several contracts.
“The costs were not those of the market. From then on we made many cuts and what amazes me is that after my resignation, most of these contracts that I had already cancelled were renewed again, some with the same companies or if not with the same companies, with the same people, who created new companies and always at the same high prices”.
Among the cases of over billing were the insurance contracts signed with the AAA insurance company of Carlos São Vicente, who was this week charged by the Attorney General’s Office with suspected embezzlement and money laundering, among other crimes, and one of his bank accounts, where $900 million (about 760 million euros) are deposited, was frozen by the Swiss authorities.
According to Isabel dos Santos, it was concluded that Sonangol could save 70% with insurance and made a new contract “with much lower prices” with another company.
“If I’m surprised there are bank accounts with so much money? It doesn’t surprise me and I think it shouldn’t be the only bank account of people connected to Sonangol that has a lot of money and this shouldn’t be the only case,” she stressed.
She added that there were between $400 and $500 million (about 340 to 420 million euros) more per year to be paid for oil insurance, which over the ten years that the state oil company has been a partner of AAA means potential losses totalling $4 or $5 billion (3.4 to 4.2 billion euros).
To this figure must be added losses as a shareholder, since Sonangol was at the origin of the creation of AAA, a stake “that was diluted over time” but whose compensation has not been demonstrated”.
“The accounts are not transparent, I don’t know if they were presented, I have never seen them,” said Isabel dos Santos, defending the need to audit the accounts of AAA and Sonangol.
“If these 900 million, almost one billion dollars that are in this account are AAA dividends, how much did Sonangol earn in relation to AAA and why did Sonangol not follow the capital increases and let itself be diluted, if the business was good,” she questioned.
Isabel dos Santos says she has no doubt that many of the media campaigns she considers to be manufactured against her are due to “the courage to stop many of these contracts” and “harmful practices” that were not beneficial to the company, the shareholders or the Angolans.
“There were several people connected to Sonangol who benefited from these kinds of schemes. When we terminated those contracts, we irritated a lot of people and ended up being dismissed,” she said.
The businesswoman insisted that the fight against corruption in Angola “is selective, it’s political, some targets have been chosen” and stressed that an audit of Sonangol would be welcome to detect “who benefited from these contracts.
Isabel dos Santos pointed out that while she was at Sonangol she resorted to external consultants to do a “thorough” audit, having been much criticised for bringing “people from outside, which she considered necessary to know “who was inside the scheme and who was not.
These reports, she assured, were presented to the executive and to João Lourenço, at the time a candidate for the Presidency of the Republic.
“I hoped that, after having informed about these issues that there would be continuity, something would be done. It was with great astonishment that I saw, after we were dismissed, that the team that returned was the same and some of those people were involved in some of the cases that we detected and informed the MPLA Political Bureau”, pointing out Sonair, Sonip and the real estate part of Sonangol, among the problem areas.
Another of the “more opaque” areas was ‘trading’, that is, the sale of crude oil, a situation that Isabel dos Santos said has not changed.
“There was very little information and I think it is still opaque, the lack of transparency seems to be continuing, it’s September and so far Sonangol has not presented accounts,” she noted.
Isabel dos Santos, who dismissed Carlos Saturnino from the position of president of the executive committee of Sonangol Pesquisa & Produção, (exploration and production) was later replaced by him in the presidency of the Board of Directors, which asked for an audit of the management of his predecessor. Carlos Saturnino resigned in May 2019, and the oil company is currently headed by Gaspar Martins.
Isabel dos Santos is in the sights of Angolan justice, having seen several of her bank accounts, assets and holdings in companies seized in Angola and Portugal
In January of this year, a consortium of journalists brought to the surface a scandal that became known as ‘Luanda Leaks’ that shows the alleged involvement of Isabel dos Santos and her husband Sindika Dokolo in financial schemes that have damaged the Angolan state by millions of dollars, using tax havens.
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