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Isabel

One of the best ways to launder money is to buy a bank

Cross-border journalistic investigation has uncovered an enormous corruption case orchestrated by Africa’s richest woman Isabel dos Santos, the first daughter of Angola’s former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos and known in her home country as ‘the Princess’. The Angolan government claims that she has caused over a billion-dollar of losses to the Angolan state.

At the centre of the charges are claims that she used her position as chairwoman of Angola’s state oil company Sonangol – of which she was the main shareholder until sacked in November 2017 – to illicitly make millions of dollars payments via her EuroBic bank in Portugal to companies in Dubai controlled by her friends.

BPI (the Portuguese Investment Bank)party owned by the Angolan billionaire – willingly provided dubious services to her by opening a bank account for an offshore shell company on the Isle of Man to facilitate her buying of a 60 million worth real estate in Monte Carlo.

Joaõ Batalha of the Portuguese branch of Transparency International believes the Bank of Portugal – that under Portuguese law regulates banking activities in the country – was blatantly complicit. Former Euro MP of Portugal’s Socialist Party Ana Gomes has no doubt about it. ‘Portugal has become a laundry for corrupt money, that is bad for our reputation.’

Gomes points to EuroBic as an example of the complicity between former coloniser Portugal and Angola for the personal enrichment of the elites on both sides of the Atlantic. ’Under the former Portuguese finance minister Fernando Teixeira, the collapsed BNP bank was saved by the state with a huge injection of € 5 billion, creating EuroBic.
The bank was then sold to Isabel dos Santos for € 40 million and who became its CEO? Indeed, Fernando Teixeira!’

The level of complicity is very much political. It isn’t just Isabel and her husband, the Congolese art collector Sindika Dokolo. She was acting as frontwoman for her father, the former president of Africa’s fifths biggest economy, who since 2018 lives in Barcelona and is said to have been stolen over 100 billion from the Angolan state during his four-decade presidency.

As more details about the corruption scandal become unveiled, Portuguese companies exposed to Isabel’s empire – energy giants like Galp and Efacec and telecommunications firm NOS – are holding their breath.

Questions are being asked about the Dos Santos 6% stake in Portugal’s oil firm Galp, the second biggest company on the Lisbon stock exchange market, with operations in Angola, Brazil and Mozambique. With a loan from Sonangol € 75m was paid for the stake, which was well worth over € 700m in February.
Last month alone millions ‘in cash’ were discovered in a safe deposit box that she holds at a branch of Novo Banco in Porto.

In April a Lisbon court ordered the ‘preventive seizure’ of Isabel’s 26% stake in Portuguese telecoms company NOS after a generalized freeze in February of all her bank accounts in Portugal in response to a request from Angola’s attorney general, who threatened to issue an international arrest warrant against her if she fails to cooperate with the investigations.

Isabel dos Santos– who in the summer of 2018 moved from Luanda to London – maintains that she is the victim of a political witch-hunt and doesn’t believe in a fair trial if she returns to Angola to defend herself.

Opinions remain divided over whether the Judiciary in Lisbon will be able – and willing – to flex its muscles given that investigating Angolan corruption will implicate senior Portuguese officials from across the country’s political spectrum.


Stay healthy                                    Fique saudável             (pic público/sapo)





Corruption

Portugal has no right-wing, left-wing parties, nothing, there’s a bunch of villains who come together to steal together  –  José Saramago

Perceived corruption in Portugal has for many years been just below the European average, according to the 2018 Corruption Index from Transparency International (www.transparancy.org).
This index ranks 180 countries on how corrupt their public sector is. The higher the number (0-100 scale) the less corruption. Portugal ranks 30 worldwide with a score of 64. Denmark and New Zealand rank first (score 88),  Somalia last  (score 10).

The reason for this standstill is the lack of political will and the ability to establish ethical conduct standards. This is reflected in the failure of the Parliamentary Commission on Transparency – established three years ago – to control members of parliament,  judges and attorneys. But also the government is to blame through its lack of vigilance in preventing abuse and unwillingness to punish corruption when it occurs.

The low number of convictions and the fact that 94% of the corruption cases are archived without trial, doesn’t help either to restore confidence in the authorities. ‘A national strategy to combat corruption – independent of the political colour of the government – is needed, believes João Batalha, president of Transparency and Integrity Civil Association (TIAC).

Former president Ramalho Eanes stated last month that corruption in the public service is a ‘complex problem that proliferates through society. Our civil society isn’t strong and autonomous enough against the state. The elected politician is more a delegate of the party than a representative of the voter and it is very difficult to change this culture.

Corruption costs the country at least 18 billion euros per year. That is about 8% of the GDP and more than the annual Health budget.
A recent inquiry by Eurostat under Portuguese civilians showed that more than 80% of the respondents were of the opinion that corruption is an essential part of the business culture.

It is therefore not surprising that Portugal is the least compliant of 49 European countries in the fight against corruption. A report from the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption group (GRECO ) by the end of 2018 revealed that nearly three-quarters of its recommendations – in particular on political parties and the judiciary – were not fulfilled.
(red bars in figure)

Not only the Council of Europe is dissatisfied. The Organisation for Cooperation and Economic Development (OECD ) concluded at the beginning of this year, that the judiciary system in Portugal isn’t functioning properly and calls for special courts to judge corruption and white-collar crime. It also recommends an electronic declaration of interest register for all members of the government and public administration employees.


Bom fim de semana          Enjoy the weekend
     (pic Público/EsqNet/Expresso)

Golden2

There is a lot of discussion about mass tourism and golden permits but in Portugal, one is inclined to say: ‘don’t kill a chicken with golden eggs.’ After reviewing the tourism industry, we will now take a look at another precious egg of the Portuguese state: the golden visa program.

Twenty EU states have golden visa or similar programs.
To obtain such a golden permit in Portugal one has to invest at least half a million euros in property in exchange for permanent residency and visa-free travel through Europe’s Schengen area.

In the past six years – between October 2012 and January 2019 – over 7000 golden visas have been issued by the Portuguese authorities. In particular to Chinese (> 4000), followed by Brazilians, South Africans, Turks and Russians. It yielded the treasury the sweet amount of 4.3 billion euros.

Just like luxury goods, residence rights are for sale. A multibillion-euro industry but not without risks. Real estate has always and everywhere been attractive to money laundering, corruption and tax evasion.
Transparency International – the global civil society organisation leading the fight against corruption – recently accused the Portuguese government of being unable to control their golden visa program.

A special commission of the European Parliament suggested abolishing all golden permits as the potential economic benefits of these programmes do not compensate for the serious security risks. Unfortunately not all member states agree. A European database will instead be created, to verify if applicants for a golden permit at least have no criminal record.

The Portuguese government is going to maintain its golden visa program against the wish of the EU but is willing to make legislative changes to improve transparency. ‘Contrary to what happens in other countries, Portugal will continue assigning only residency – not citizenship – in exchange for investment, declared the Secretary of State for International Relations Eurico Brilhante Dias lately.

The majority in the Portuguese Parliament even wants to go a step further in the residency scheme for wealthy foreigners by introducing ‘green visas to investors, who spend at least half a million euros in ecotourism, renewable energy and other environmental projects that contribute to cut carbon emissions.
Much to the displeasure of the Left Bloc (BE), who wishes the program to end altogether and emphasises the hypocrisy between an immigration regime for the rich and the poor.

Bom fim de semana        Have a great weekend                (pic Publico/Sapo)

 

Sócrates

‘No one does wrong willingly or knowingly’ – Socrates, Greek philosopher

On November 21st at 10 PM, 2014  José Sócrates – ex-prime minister and former leader of the Socialist Party – was arrested at Lisbon’s airport, after flying home from Paris, under suspicion of money laundering, corruption, forgery and fiscal fraud.
He was held in preventive custody for 11 months but had to be released due to lack of evidence.

Almost 3 years later the Public Prosecutor’s Office officially closed down the final investigation – called Operation Marqués, named after the former residence of the prime minister at the Marqués de Pombal square in Lisbon – and published the results last week in a more than 4000 page’s thick report.

Except for Sócrates – prime minister between 2005 and 2011 – 9 companies and 19 individuals – amongst them important bankers, directors and public administrators – were together charged with 188 crimes.

According to the accusation, Sócrates received between 2006 and 2009 more than 24 million euros in bribes from the private enterprise Lena, the luxury tourist company Vale do Lobos and the biggest bank at that time, Banco Espírito Santo. The money is supposed to be hidden in bank accounts in Switzerland.

Carlos Santos Silva, businessman and personal friend of Sócrates, is said to be the key person in the process, acting as the mediator between the former prime minister and the involved companies.

It’s for the first time in the history of Portugal, that a former prime minister is accused of corruption during the execution of his function as head of state. But that’s not all. Operation Marqués also incriminates ex-CEO’s from big government agencies like Portugal Telecom and the state-owned bank Caixa Geral dos Depositos.

Socrates’ lawyers declared the accusations “totally unfounded and complete nonsense.” The defense is – by law – given 50 days to react to the accusations but already has requested an extension of one year, to be able to analyze the document in detail.

The ex-prime minister himself calls the report “a fantasy, a fable without any facts or evidence” and elucidates “that the purpose of the state has never been to investigate a crime, but to harass a target.”

This week his third book ‘The evil we deplore’ was published.’


Socrates ( 469-399 BC) was a Greek philosopher and considered the father of western philosophy. He showed how argument, debate, and discussion could help men to understand difficult issues.  In 399 BC he was put on trial for ‘refusing to recognize the gods of the state’, found guilty and forced to commit suicide by taking poison.

BOM FIM DE SEMANA                                                                                                                  (photo Público)

Permit

Portugal sells EU citizenship to corrupt millionaires, while thousands of refugees are knocking in vain on Europe’s door.

The waiter in restaurant São Pedro do Estoril speaks with that typical melodious accent. ‘You are right’, Liandro says. ‘I’ am not from here but from Belo Horizonte in Brazil. If I can keep up working in Portugal for five years, I’m allowed to apply for a passport and work all over Europe. The work is good and the people are nice, but I don’t know if I can miss my family back home that long. Deus é que sabe (God only knows).’

For wealthy people, there is a far much easier way. Portugal’s ‘golden residence permit’ – visto gold – requires an investment of 500,000 euros in property in exchange for permanent residency and visa-free travel through Europe’s Schengen area.

According to the government two-thirds of the more than 5000 ‘golden visas’ – issued since 2012 – have been to Chinese applicants. In recent years however, the number of Brazilian and  African investors is rising. The program has already generated more than 3 billion euros.

Real estate has long been attractive to criminals due to the potential to launder large quantities of cash. Last week the British newspaper the Guardian, together with the Portuguese weekly Expresso, published in a leaked document a list of corrupt Brazilian business executives and relatives of Angolan politicians – being accused of bribery – who had secretly bought access to Europe via Portugal’s visto gold scheme.

One of them is Otávio Azevedo, former president of Brazil’s second-largest construction company, Andrade Gutierrez. He received an 18-year sentence last year, after admitting a string of corruption offenses. Two years before his arrest he bought a € 1.4 million property in Lisbon and subsequently applied for a golden visa in 2014.

Another is Sergio Lins Andrade, chairman and main shareholder of the same company, who in 2014 acquired a Lisbon property worth € 665,000 through the golden visa program. He is estimated by Forbes to be worth $ 1.5 billion.

Relatives of the Angolan vice president Manuel Vincente – until 2012 chief executive of the country’s state oil company Sonagol – are also mentioned in the document. Vincente faced allegations earlier this year when he tried to bribe a Portuguese magistrate in order to suppress an investigation into corruption at Sonagol.

In a statement, the government said its golden visa scheme ‘strictly follows all legally established security procedures’. The European Commission already announced an investigation into all the golden visa programmes in the EU.

BOM FIM DE SEMANA