THE biggest corruption investigation in Brazil, Operation Lava Jato, has revealed the extent of Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht’s bribery activities in Angola to facilitate the company’s presence in the African country.
The investigation shows that Odebrecht used Swiss accounts to bribe politicians and military officials in Angola, including President Joao Lourenco, who is alleged to have received $15 million. Swiss court documents show that despite being under investigation by Operation Lava Jato, a member of the current administration of President Joao Larenco was not the only one to receive money from Odebrecht. It took the investigation of Carlos Panzo, former secretary for economic affairs, by the Brazilian police to discover that one of the various Swiss bank accounts of President Joao Laurenco had been frozen by the Swiss authorities.
Odebrecht used secret Swiss bank accounts to distribute millions of dollars to senior government officials in Angola.
Although Angola has been cited by Odebrecht executives as one of the main targets of the company’s corruption, Odebrecht Angola continues ‘business as usual’. The Brazilian company has built two hydroelectric dams, is involved in sugar production and a luxury condominium with a Swiss company led by Mirco Martins, son of Manuel Vicente, the former chairman of state-owned oil company, Sonangol.
While in Peru and Columbia, authorities had expelled Odebrecht as a result of the Lava Jato investigation, the Brazilian attorney general Janot pointed out during a hearing at the Supreme Court, that many politicians had been bribed, that’s why Odebrect remains in Angola.
Odebrecht, Lula (former President of Brazil) and a $50 million campaign
The pieces of the puzzle in Angola start with Lula’s campaign manager, Joao Santana. During the investigation and testimony at the Supreme Court, the publicist revealed that one of the meetings that took place in Brazil was attended by Manuel Vicente, then president of Sonangol. The defendant recalls, however, that Vicente was just months away from holding the vice presidency.
Carlo Panzo was close to Manuel Vicente. In 2009, he was the director of the macroeconomic monitoring office of the Ministry of Economy, co-ordinator of the Housing Fund Management Committee and chairman of the Fiscal Council of Sonangol. In 2012, Panzo was in Brasilia to prepare the visit of the Angolan Finance Minister, Carlos Alberto Lopes, who would meet with the then Brazilian Minister of Development, Industry and Foreign Trade, Fernando Pimentel, and the Minister of Finance, Guido Mantega. At the time, he was the director of the Public Debt Unit at the Ministry of Finance. Officially, Panzo sought Brazil’s financial support for energy, infrastructure and industry reconstruction projects.
In December 2016, while the US Department of Justice announced broad allegations against Odebrecht, Panzo was appointed as executive director of the Angola Development Bank (BDA).
That same month, the US Department of Justice pointed out that between 2006 and 2013 Odebrecht had paid bribes of more than $50 million to members of the Angolan government. In return, it obtained contracts estimated at $261 million.
However, Panzo remained part of the government in Luanda. When João Lourenço took office, ending the decades of José Eduardo dos Santos’ presidency, Panzo got new positions. In September 2017, he was nominated as secretary of state for economic affairs.
But Panzo was subject of a money-laundering lawsuit in Switzerland and in October was discharged from his position. The suspicion is that his account was also a transit point for the money redistributed to other African politicians.
The Swiss discovered an offshore account whose beneficiary was Panzo. More than $11 million was moved through this account alone and according to the investigation, the money was deposited by Odebrecht.
The deposits were made between 2010 and 2019 by three companies linked to the Brazilian construction company. When the account was blocked in June 2019, it contained only $ 3 million.
Investigations reveal that Panzo would have received 1.7 million euros in 2013, for a contract obtained by Odebrecht in Angola. An Angolan military official also benefited funds from the same account. The investigation also uncovered payments done in 2015 from the same Swiss account to the son of an Angolan finance minister.
Between 2002 and 2016, the BNDES (Brazilian National Bank for Economic and Social Development) contracted $ 4 billion in loans with Angola, mostly for Odebrecht projects, such as the construction of the Laúca Hydropower plant. The BNDES has funded other works in Angola such as the Cambambe Hydropower Dam, the ‘Luanda Roads’ Project, the Luena ‘Praça da Paz’ (Peace Square), the Zango Population Resettlement Programme and the Catata-Lóvua Road.