January 21, 2020 / 4:11 PM / a month ago

Angola pleads for help to claw back assets lost to corruption

LONDON (Reuters) - Angola is seeking other countries’ help to recover state funds lost because of corruption, Minister of State for Economic Coordination Manuel Jose Nunes Junior said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Isabel Dos Santos, daughter of Angola’s former President and Africa's richest woman, sits for a portrait during a Reuters interview in London, Britain, January 9, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

Angolan President Joao Lourenco said on taking office in 2017 that he would crack down on graft and reform the economy.

“We are activating all the legal, judicial and diplomatic measures to ensure the repatriation of those resources,” Nunes Junior said at Chatham House think tank in London.

He declined to say which countries the government had contacted.

“We are requesting international cooperation to support this process, to help us look into the cases of corruption we already identified or the ones we have not found yet,” he said.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest economy is ranked as one of the world’s most corrupt nations, in 165th place on a list of 180 countries, according to anti-corruption group Transparency International.

Scrutiny of Angola has increased since the authorities seized the domestic assets of former first daughter Isabel dos Santos, accusing the billionaire and her husband of steering payments of more than $1 billion from state oil company Sonangol and official diamond trading group Sodiam to companies where they held stakes.

Dos Santos and her husband have denied wrongdoing. Dos Santos has told Reuters the allegations against her are “completely unfounded” and accused the authorities of a “witch hunt”.

On Monday, Portuguese authorities said they had started investigating leaked documents concerning dos Santos’s business empire, and Portuguese bank Eurobic said it had decided to end commercial relationships with entities she controls.

Asked about dos Santos, Nunes Junior said the law was being applied in her case and Angola must be seen as a place that respects the rule of law.

Angola’s minister of mineral resources and petroleum, Diamantino Azevedo, added that his country had enlisted the help of international accounting group Deloitte to list 30% of Sonangol in the next two years after slashing its non-core businesses, which he called an “octopus”.

KWANZA ON THE MEND

Nunes Junior said the government was pushing for more transparency in foreign exchange markets and would let the kwanza currency find its level in the market.

The kwanza tumbled to record lows in October after policy makers, faced with limited foreign currency reserves and subdued oil prices, abandoned their tight reign on the currency.

Luanda reached a deal with the International Monetary Fund last December and embark on several reforms - one of which is to fully unshackle its foreign currency market.

Nunes Junior said the gap between the official kwanza rate to the dollar and the black market rate had fallen to 19% from 150% in 2017.

The drop in the kwanza - which weakened 46% against the dollar in 2018 and 36% in 2019 - has also ramped up inflation pressures, with year-on-year CPI in December topping 17%.

Nunes Junior said he expected inflation rates to decline to the single digits by 2022.

Reporting by Noah Browning, Writing by Karin Strohecker, Editing by Timothy Heritage

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