Angola’s former president’s son stands trial in high-profile case

By Estelle Maussion
Posted on Tuesday, 24 December 2019 07:02

José Filomeno dos Santos, eldest son of the former president © Youtube

Former head of Angola’s $5bn sovereign wealth fund, José “Zénu” Filomeno dos Santos has been on trial since December 9. The eldest son of the former president, dos Santos is accused of embezzling $1.5bn of public money during his tenure (2013-2017). 

The 40-year-old Filomeno dos Santos faces up to eight years in prison for corruption. One of the charges relates to the transfer of $500m from the central bank coffers to a Credit Suisse account in London.

‘Zénu’ has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Corruption busting

When João Lourenço became Angola’s president in September 2017, he pledged to fight corruption in the oil-rich state. He seems to be keeping his promise.

In August, a court sentenced former Transport Minister Augusto da Silva Tomás to 14 years in prison on fraud charges. The sentence has been reduced to 8 years.

In November, the former head of military intelligence, General António “Zé Maria” José Maria was sentenced to three years in jail for stealing confidential documents. Angolan authorities have recovered the files.

The trial of  ‘Zénu’ is another milestone for the country. It serves as a lesson to Angolans that no one, even the former president’s son, is untouchable.

Zénu’s trial

On the first day of the trial, dos Santos appeared in a blue-grey suit and blue shirt.

He wore a long beard, and looked visibly shaken. A few days later, he addressed the court, saying he’s unemployed.

‘Zénu’ has not hired a senior lawyer to defend him. In September, shortly before the original commencement date of the trial, he cancelled the services of his lawyer from the firm, Legis Veritas.

He asked the court to appoint a public defender, which he paid for out of his own pocket. The lawyer, António Gentil Simão, who is arguing the most important case of his career, has refused to speak to the media before the verdict.

Dos Santos was dismissed from the sovereign wealth fund in January 2018. He was charged with corruption in March 2018, and held in pre-trial detention for nearly six months (September to March 2019).

From the beginning of the trial, ‘Zénu’ pledged to work with the justice system. He is the only member of the former president’s family to remain in Luanda.

Former head of state José Eduardo dos Santos, who was in power for 38 years, has been in Barcelona since April.

His two daughters, Isabel dos Santos and Welwitschia dos Santos, are also in Europe.

Politics of justice

During the trial, Dos Santos’ lawyer challenged the aggressive tone of one of the judges. ‘Zénu’ used to opportunity to remind the court about the political nature of his trial. 

  • “If I wasn’t the son of the former president of the Republic, I wouldn’t be here to be judged by you,” he said during his hearing.

‘Zénu’ has stressed that his role was very limited in relation to the controversial Credit Suisse account in London. He claims to have only attended preliminary meetings with his father’s permission, and therefore maintains his innocence. 

This is also the argument from other defendants in the trial, including the former governor of the Angolan Central Bank, Valter Filipe. They blame the Angolan Presidency for authorising transfers to the London account.

Filipe’s lawyer has asked the court to send a list of questions to former president Dos Santos.

The trial continues.


This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options