Sonangol snaps back at Marques’ allegations

28 March 2017, Week 12, Issue 682

Angola’s Sonangol has issued a statement condemning allegations from a local investigative journalist, about the way in which foreign consultants are being paid. 

Rafael Marques has been a recurring thorn in the side of Angola’s government but his report on March 20, “Sonangol’s slush fund salary payments”, appears to have hit particularly close to home. Sonangol released a statement denying his claims, on March 23. 

Marques alleged that the consultants, brought in to oversee reforms of Sonangol, have been paid via the company’s UK subsidiary and that their payroll costs “surpasses the entire Sonangol Group payroll”. He went on to name a Portuguese law firm, Vasco Vieira de Almeida, the US-based Boston Consulting Group and Wise Intelligence Solutions, with the latter allegedly owned by Isabel dos Santos, CEO of Sonangol and daughter of the president. 

Isabel dos Santos, he continued, “is paying herself to advise herself. And she is doing so by circuitous means to avoid paying the relevant Angolan taxes”. Furthermore, expatriate consultants are using tourism visas, rather than the correct business visas, Marques continued. 

Sonangol took umbrage at the charges, saying Marques was trying to divert attention from the company’s restructuring efforts. Payments for the board were in line with previous arrangements, and Marques’ statement suggesting that consultants were paid more than Sonangol’s wage bill was unfounded, the company continued. 

The statement added that efforts by the consultants had already resulted in cost savings at Sonangol and all visas were correct and legal. Payments to consultants were carried out by the company’s foreign offices to parent organisations. Furthermore, all relevant taxes and dues were paid in Angola, in line with the law, it said. Comments from Marques about the consultants were part of a “xenophobic and ultra-nationalist” programme. 

The company went on to say Maka Angola, Marques’ news agency, was an “opaque organisation”, which concealed its accounts and shareholders. 

Marques also reported that oil shipments to Israel, under a US$7 billion arms deal, had been suspended. Sonangol did not deny this, but did say that the relationship was handled at a state level. 

Given that Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos is due to step down in August, the prospect of change is increasing. While dos Santos will remain the leader of the ruling party, the MPLA, his successor has been chosen as Joao Lourenco. A reduction in dos Santos’ power could have a knock-on impact on his children, who hold senior positions. In addition to Isabel dos Santos, at Sonangol, his son, Jose Filomeno dos Santos, runs the sovereign wealth fund.