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Angola: Where did all the money go? Part 1, a family feast

By Zoé Eisenstein and Patrick Smith
Posted on Monday, 21 October 2019 12:53, updated on Friday, 25 October 2019 21:06

After the civil war Angola's capital Luanda became a boomtown of flash cars and fast cash / SILVAP/stock.adobe.com

At the end of the devastating civil war, in 2002, Angolans had the chance to rebuild their broken country using its bountiful resources of oil, gas and diamonds.

It was the start of a commodity super-cycle and in the next decade and a half the country earned more than $600bn in export revenue. But economists tell us that at least 15% of the country’s earnings were diverted into private accounts.

Many reconstruction projects were badly run and hugely overpriced, thwarting the majority’s hopes for better clinics and schools. They cheered when new President João Lourenço promised a crackdown on corruption.

In this 5-part investigation, The Africa Report examines what happened in Angola, getting inside the system and the people who ran it, and asks whether Lourenço can get the money back.

For part two, please click here.

For part three, please click here.

For part four, please click here.

For part five, please click here. 

We begin with a look at the man who created Angola’s Sovereign Wealth Fund, Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais.

A FAMILY FEAST

Hours after his release from Viana maximum security prison, clutching an Angolan passport in one hand and a Swiss passport in the other, multimillionaire Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais stood in front of a portrait of President João Lourenço and grinned for the camera.

The head of Quantum Global, the company that managed $5bn in assets for Angola’s sovereign wealth fund (SWF), Bastos had spent six months in one of the country’s toughest gaols.

Bastos was free in March 2019 thanks to an undisclosed settlement with the SWF so that he would not face charges.

The Swiss-Angolan entrepreneur Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais quickly adapted to life at the top /Wikicommons

Soon after the photo was taken, Bastos flew to Dubai. Close friends say they have not heard from him since. “They’ve [the Angolan authorities] taken everything, but he’ll start all over again,” a loyal friend told The Africa Report in a Zurich beer hall. “He’s done a lot for African culture.”

Few doubt that the quirky, charismatic Bastos will bounce back. There was “something manic, almost messianic about his business plans for Africa,” one of his acquaintances told us.

In September 2018, Bastos was arrested, taken to Viana and held without charges. On the same day, José Filomeno dos Santos (‘Zenú’), a close friend of Bastos and the son of former president José Eduardo dos Santos, was sent to São Paulo prison hospital.

Both men insist on their innocence.

For many Angolans, their detention was a symbolic break with ex-president Dos Santos, who had been in power for 38 years.

A freelancer for professional services firm Deloitte, Bastos landed with big dreams in Luanda in 2004, just as the oil-fired economy was revving up. He called Marcel Kruse, a colleague on a couple of ill-starred ventures in Switzerland. “Marcel, we’re going to do investment banking,” Bastos told him in September 2004.

A few weeks later, Kruse was with Bastos in Luanda looking at a number of projects. Two years later, they were sitting around a boardroom table with people like the stepson of the head of the state oil company, Sonangol, and the son of President Dos Santos.

When Zenú joined the project, Banco Kwanza Invest – as it is now called – took off. Bastos, working solo, clinched a contract to manage some of the central bank’s gold reserves. One day, Bastos breezed into Kruse’s office: “Give me your car. Now this Range Rover is yours.”

The accountant recoiled at the prospect of giving up his trusty Toyota. Bastos said that their Angolan counterparts would not take them seriously if they did not look the part.

This was the Luanda zeitgeist.

A hundred metres from the office, a fortunate few sat at cafés overlooking the bay, sipping cocktails at $30 a throw. Along the street, a line of Hummers and luxury 4x4s cruised past. An expatriate army of petroleum engineers, trade-finance specialists and diamond dealers had joined the oil bonanza. By 2010, Luanda was the world’s most expensive city for expats.

It went from war zone to boom town.

Many Angolans watched, puzzling how their country could produce so much wealth while so little filtered into their daily lives – into schools, clinics, state companies managing the electricity and water supplies.

Bastos’ ascent in Luanda was easy to understand, according to an associate. “When I met him first he had Rasta hair, he was a bass player […] he was this multilingual, charismatic person, a young guy full of ideas.”

As the economy took off towards a world-beating 23% growth in a year, Luanda’s nightlife exploded. Once a sandy landing ground for small fishing boats, the Ilha do Cabo hosted a strip of nightclubs that would fit in Rio de Janiero’s upscale Gávea neighbourhood.

An inveterate socialiser, Bastos fitted right in. “Jean-Claude would always have his crowd around him,” said his associate. “[It was] kind of fun because you always met new people […], a bit more interesting than going out for pizza.”

As Quantum’s business boomed, so did Bastos’s profile. He became an investment guru on the Africa conference circuit, threw parties for A-list celebrities and, like many in Luanda’s nomenklatura, took to using private jets. He made much of his plans to “reward innovation” through an annual Africa innovation prize.

Bastos and presidential scion Zenú became inseparable friends, holed up for hours in business discussions at the Banco Kwanza offices.

It was leading to yet another coup de théâtre – the launching of the Fundo Soberano de Angola, the country’s $5bn SWF in 2012. Zenú ended up as chairman. Then Bastos’s Swiss-based company Quantum Global was appointed to manage the SWF’s assets.

Questions quickly arose about the lack of a competitive tender for the asset-management contract, conflicts of interest and high fees. The mammoth Port of Caio was launched by Bastos’s company, which “invited” the SWF to invest.

This was not a conflict of interest, Bastos told Britain’s The Guardian newspaper: “We view these investments as having aligned interest.” Equally, Bastos told the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche that criticism of the fees earned by his company from the SWF – more than $90m between May 2014 and December 2015 – was misplaced. “We have standards which correspond to international norms. We receive 2% of the fund’s volume plus 20% of the generated capital gain,” explained Bastos.

Many businesspeople we spoke to saw the SWF as part of the patronage system. One explained: “The SWF was created in a moment of hubris. There had been a slow build-up. Every bank had to have a Dos Santos in the structure. The next step was to give Zenú the fund. That was a step too far. Then everyone’s ears pricked up.”

In January 2018, Lourenço – who became president in September 2017 – sacked the board of the SWF, appointing a new chairman to guarantee “a more efficient and transparent use of the state’s strategic resources”.

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