Campaigners seek to reopen Angola inquiry

A voter at a polling station in the Angolan capital Luanda last year Keystone

Angolan anti-corruption campaigners have filed a criminal complaint to the Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office, asking for an earlier investigation to be reopened into a deal which allegedly robbed Angola of more than $700 million (CHF650 million).

This content was published on April 17, 2013 - 10:41
Clare O'Dea, Clare O'Dea,

A spokeswoman for the Federal Prosecutor’s Office confirmed to that the complaint had arrived by post on Wednesday.

The basis for the complaint is new information contained in a report released on Tuesday by a British organisation, Corruption Watch UK, and Angolan anti-corruption group Mäos Livres.

An earlier Swiss criminal investigation into the affair was terminated in 2004 and a related complaint by Angolan citizens in 2006 was not taken up by the Federal Prosecutor’s Office.

The report not only reveals financial impropriety on the part of Angolan officials and politicians, but sheds new light on the role of financial intermediaries in the deal, among them the Swiss Banking Corporation (SBC), which later merged with the Union Bank of Switzerland to become UBS.

According to a statement by Corruption Watch UK, the report “highlights the role of senior bankers at SBC in enabling the fraudulent multi-million dollar transaction which involved paying off Angola’s restructured Soviet-era debt to Russia”.

“Not too late”

Commenting on the Angolan complaint, Swiss non-governmental organisation the Berne Declaration said the Swiss banking system allowed state funds from one of the world’s poorest countries to be stolen.

In a statement, Berne Declaration quotes Angolan lawyer and opposition figure David Menes, one of the signatories to the Swiss complaint: “It is not too late for Switzerland to properly investigate all those who made [the fraud] happen, and to seek restitution.”

Using newly available documents and payment records, the report also details the role of the Swiss-based multinational oil and commodities trader Glencore, which was buying oil from Angola’s state-owned company at the time of the fraud.

Glencore was brought in to help put the debt deal in motion by providing advance payments on oil shipments. The trading company in turn brought in SBC to set up an account to receive the scheduled debt payments. SBC forwarded money on to Russia and other accounts.

Corruption Watch UK claims the payments by SBC do not appear to have been subject to adequate internal review or reported to the authorities despite obvious criminal risks.  

Calls for sanctions

The report urges Swiss prosecutors to launch “a proper investigation of the Angola-Russia debt deal and increase the transparency of its commodity trading companies by requiring public disclosure of all payment in their annual reports. This requirement is already in force in the United States and the European Union.

It also says the Swiss financial regulator should sanction any financial intermediaries who, after appropriate investigation, are found to have violated or disregarded their due diligence responsibilities. The sanctions should be made public, it adds.

In December 2012, Switzerland announced it was returning $43 million in frozen assets to Angola. The money will be used to fund development projects that directly benefit the population.

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