By Rafael Marques de Morais
Kero hypermarket, probably the biggest in Angola, might be considered a model private investment, thanks to the way it has improved the range and quality of consumer goods available in the country. But Kero, which has been operating for a year in Luanda’s Nova Vida suburb, has also proved to be a model example of how Angola’s top state officials ignore the distinction between public and private property and turn themselves into the country’s top entrepreneurs.
In an interview with the weekly paper ‘O País’, Kero’s Brazilian director general, João Santos, revealed how much had been invested by a group of Angolan businessmen in partnership with Banco Privado Atlântico: “The US$35 million is a combination of private capital and resources freed up by the partnership with Atlântico.”
The hypermarket occupies a surface area of 7,500 square metres and a total area of 11,000 square metres. A second outlet has already opened in Condomínio Cajú, in the Talatona neighbourhood.
More recently, on December 10, the minister of Trade, Idalina Valente, formally inaugurated the third branch of the Kero chain, in the new state housing project of Kilamba, in Luanda. This is the largest social housing project in the country, and it was executed by the Office of National Reconstruction, led by General Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias “Kopelipa”. Currently, Kilamba is under the management of Sonangol, headed by Manuel Vicente.
Despite all the publicity that the opening of this large enterprise generated in the media and by means of billboards along the main routes in Luanda, there has been little mention of a company called Zahara, which owns the project.
A brief investigation by Maka Angola reveals that Zahara is one of many businesses belonging to a business empire known as Grupo Aquattro International, which owns 99.96 percent of Zahara. The group, which over the last three years has become the biggest player in the national economy, is owned exclusively by Manuel Vicente, chairman of the board of Sonangol; the minister of state and head of the Military Bureau in the presidency, General Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias “Kopelipa”; and his chief advisor, General Leopoldino Fragoso do Nascimento.
These three men hold equal shares of 33.3 percent in Grupo Aquattro International. Colonel João Manuel Inglês, a senior official in the Military Bureau, and his brother Domingos Manuel Inglês, who is General Kopelipa’s private business assistant, hold a symbolic 0.5 percent token.
The company was established on behalf of the three shareholders by Ismênio Coelho Macedo, a Portuguese citizen who is a board member of Atlântico, the same bank that financed Kero. This conflict of interests puts the bank in breach of the Law on Financial Institutions, which prohibits (Art. 66, 1, 3, 7) the granting of credit to board members or to companies controlled by them, and to persons who directly or indirectly have qualified shareholdings in these companies.
Sonangol, the Angolan state-owned oil company, has a 7.5 percent qualified shareholding in Atlântico, where it is represented by Baptista Sumbe, a non-executive board member appointed by Sonangol, and who is Manuel Vicente’s subordinate. As a public servant, Manuel Vicente has an ongoing obligation to represent the interests of the state, through Sonangol. He must therefore not do private business with the bank for his own private gain, since the bank functions partly with Sonangol capital.
At the same time, the establishment of Kero in Condomínio Cajú makes Manuel Vincente liable for a further act of improbity. The condominium is a multi-million dollar project financed and overseen by Sonangol to provide accommodation for its employees as well as for the presidential family and the MPLA elite.
The Law on Public Probity defines as an act of illicit enrichment (Art. 25º, 1º, k, j) the inclusion of the assets of a public entity into private assets. Thus the use of land within Condomínio Cajú, paid for by state funds, for the building of Manuel Vicente’s supermarket, amounts to grabbing a public asset for his own benefit. Phone calls to Sonangol’s communication and public relations office to seek clarification about this were not answered.
General Kopelipa, for his part, also needs to explain to the justice system how Kero came to acquire the space to build Angola’s biggest hypermarket. This space forms part of the land that was entrusted to the Military Bureau to build housing intended for soldiers. Kopelipa is also involved in the same crime of the illegal use of public assets for his private business.
Both General Kopelipa and Manuel Vicente should be held accountable for the illegal use of a public property, in Kilamba Town, for their personal enrichment. These two public officials have in turn been the top decision makers for the management of the housing project. Kopelipa, Vicente and General Leopoldino Fragoso are also the owners of the private company Delta Imobiliária, contracted by the state to sell the social houses at unaffordable prices, ranging from US $120,000 to US $250,000 per unit. For now, however, Manuel Vicente and the generalsenjoy impunity since they benefit from the patronage of the President of the Republic, José Eduardo dos Santos, who both actively and tacitly encourages and protects acts of corruption on the part of his favourite henchmen.
For more information on Kero, see Opais.
Founder of the anti-corruption watchdog Maka Angola, Rafael Marques de Morais is currently a visiting scholar at the African Studies Department at the John Hopkins University (SAIS).