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Activist says Angola’s debt to China should be subject to forensic audit

Angolan activist Rafael Marques is in favor of a forensic audit of the debt that the Lusophone country has contracted with China and an eventual renegotiation of the loans allegedly based on corrupt deals, such as those involving Sonangol and former Vice President Manuel Vicente

Also read: Angola is the largest African debtor to China and debt must be a “global priority”

In an article co-signed with researcher and international politics specialist Thomas j.Duesterberg, Rafael Marques points out the high costs of the “odious” debt contracted with China and calls for a forensic audit arguing that, as a precaution, Angola should not assume new debts with China.

Rafael Marques

“It is considered odious debt that was contracted against the interests of the state and for the benefit of self-interest,” he wrote.

The Angolan activist and journalist, director of the investigative and denunciation website Maka Angola, is participating today in a Hudson Institute conference, in which the theme of the influence of China’s financial assistance on corruption in Angola will be addressed.

The text addresses the recent visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Qi Gang to Angola in January with a “gift,” a $250 million (233 million euros) loan to help Angola develop broadband technology and to revisit some “recent financial gifts” of Chinese origin “that proved toxic.”

Also read: Angolan ambassador highlights direct investment in relations with China

It also addresses the debt “trap” in African countries, citing cases of ‘default’ such as Zambia, and questions whether Angola has sufficiently studied the risks of new credit, especially with regard to the involvement of Chinese telecommunications companies “which almost always bring the hidden cost of industrial espionage.”

“There is a potential threat to Angola’s national security if its advanced telecommunications structure is ultimately under Chinese control,” it questions in the article, also pointing to the repercussions on relations with the US that “Angola is desperate to deepen.”

But above all it questions the need to contract new debt with China “since Angola does not have a favorable past with regard to the management and servicing of foreign debt,” having resorted to the IMF three years ago.

Also read: “China has done everything it can to help Angola”

“China’s loans to Angola are often shrouded in obscurity and controversy that the current government should be cautious about accepting more,” it states in the article, pointing to estimates by the Maka Angola website that half of the money Angola owes China was not used on public projects and ended up in private accounts.

“This phenomenon is known as odious debt, in legal terms” so subsequent governments “should not bear the burden of paying the odious debt, especially if the creditors were alerted to the illegal deals beforehand,” the authors write.

“This is not a call for non-payment of China’s or any other country’s general debt,” they clarify, calling instead for a renegotiation or relief of debt that has been incurred through corrupt dealings.

Also read: Personalities of Angola, Mozambique and China among the 25 most important in the african oil industry

Angola is Beijing’s largest African client, to whom it owes $21 billion (€19.6 billion), about 40% of the stock of all foreign debt and consuming nearly half of Angola’s state budget.

“But what is worse is that the existing debt is linked to the recent history of corruption and capture of the Angolan state,” they say in the article, pointing to the case involving the China Investment Fund, the former Angolan vice president and former boss of the state oil company Sonangol, Manuel Vicente, in the crosshairs of the Angolan justice system.

Manuel Vicente, José Eduardo dos Santos’ number two between 2012 and 2017, is alleged to have helped and benefited from the business dealings of Angolan generals ‘Kopelipa’ and ‘Dino’ with Chinese businessmen, namely Sam Pa (arrested in 2015) by diverting money through state-owned companies to personal accounts.

According to the prosecution’s indictment, known last year, some $1.5 billion (€1.4 billion) from alleged oil sales never entered the coffers of the Angolan state.

Also read: China wants to invest more in Angola

The article draws attention to the fact that the US, aligned with Angola, imposed sanctions on the two generals but left out Manuel Vicente, pointing out the “lack of impartiality” linked also to the fight against corruption in Angola and underlining “Vicente’s role in establishing a corrupt state.”

“Angola is still discovering the schemes and paying the price,” reads the same text, which mentions $10 billion (9.33 billion euros) of Chinese capital that was sent to Sonangol (with no record of the purposes for which it was used) in 2016 and is registered as public debt, coinciding with the period when Isabel dos Santos, daughter of former President José Eduardo dos Santos, led the oil company.

With regard to a possible renegotiation, the article stresses that in 2015, the year Sam Pa was arrested, Chinese authorities already had information about the illicit transfers that were being made, disguised as loans between states.

“Angola and China have an obligation to reassess the situation,” they emphasize in the document, continuing, “it is in the interest of the Angolan government not to assume more public debt with China before a forensic audit and in case this reveals, as we suspect, odious debt from the former highly corrupt regime, the leaders of the two countries should consider renegotiating the debt.”

Also read: China is in contact with Angola on debt relief

The authors also suggest that the United Nations look into the issue by creating a consensus on how best to deal with odious debt under international law.

O texto termina com um recado ao Governo angolano, lembrando que o Presidente Joe Biden não concedeu uma audiência a João Lourenço na cimeira EUA-Africa nem a secretária do Tesouro norte-americana, Janet Yellen, “o honrou com uma visita este ano”.

“Na ausência de posições claras de Angola, os analistas de política internacional começam a questionar se tal como ziguezagueia noutras políticas nacionais, o Presidente João Loureço não consegue escolher qual a melhor política para o seu país e o seu povo”, concluem.

O Hudson Institute é um centro de pesquisa dedicado a analisar de temas económicos e políticos e relações internacionais.

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