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Twists in Africa’s war on corruption and impunity

Sunday February 25 2018

Gupta family associated with Jacob Zuma.

A police van and police officers inside the compound of the controversial business family Gupta in Johannesburg, South Africa, on February 14, 2018. PHOTO | WIKUS DE WET | AFP 

CIUGU MWAGIRU
By CIUGU MWAGIRU
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Even as the Transparency International corruption perceptions index was released on Wednesday, with many African countries on the spot, there were tales of attempts to perpetuate impunity on the continent.

On the preceding day, for instance, Equatorial Guinea denounced the conviction by a French court of its vice-president, Teodorin Obiang, on corruption charges.

Obiang, 48 and the son of long-serving President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, has in recent years more or less become the face of profligacy, corruption and impunity in Africa.

A high-living international playboy, he had been prosecuted by a French court for embezzling $180 million of public funds to finance his jet-set lifestyle.

Tried in absentia and sentenced in October to a three-year suspended sentence, he was also slapped with a $35 million suspended fine.

On Tuesday, however, his country was quick to come to Teodorin’s defence, while denouncing the action by the court as a flagrant violation of international law.

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DRAMA UNFOLDED

The drama unfolded during the hearing of a case at The Hague in which Equatorial Guinea accused France of flouting conventions on diplomatic relations and immunity.

Ironically, on the same day, new Liberian President Geoge Weah was pledging to fight corruption after decrying the sorry conditions in his “broke country”.

Speaking on the first day of an official visit to Paris, the former Fifa World player of the year said he inherited “a country that is very broke and depleted by political malfeasance”.

Pledging to ensure that “the things that happened will not happen again,” Weah said he had ordered a complete audit “to make sure that what belongs to the government goes to the government”.

Apparently, all is not lost as Angola’s new President João Lourenço seems to be vigorously proceeding with efforts to ensure the repatriation of national assets stashed abroad.

ELECTION

Months after his election, the leader advised Angolans with fortunes abroad to repatriate their money and invest at home.

Warning that the government would confiscate money from those defying the advice, he said anyone repatriating the money “will not be interrogated on why he or she had it abroad”.

In the meantime, the no-nonsense president has been busy dismissing a number of his predecessor Jose Eduardo dos Santos’ relatives and allies from vital government institutions.

The move has widely been seen as aimed at fulfilling his promises, while firmly asserting his authority as the ruler of Africa’s second-largest oil producer.

Explaining his policies last year, the president stated that the fight against corruption should not be confused with persecution of wealthy Angolans.

Early this month, the Angolan government put its foot down when it issued a 180-day ultimatum to its nationals to repatriate money from foreign accounts.

Warning that the government would take unspecified actions against anyone defying the order, National Reserve Bank governor José de Lima Massano said the ultimatum was already published in the official gazette.

DIAMOND MINES

Just last December, Massano confirmed that more than $30 billion belonging to Angola was deposited abroad, half of it in commercial banks and other financial institutions.

To show it has teeth, the government last month repossessed diamond mines from Nguituka Josefa Matias, 54, a Democratic Republic of Congo citizen who once claimed to be the daughter of former President Santos.

According to private media reports, a warrant of arrest against Matias was issued when she was accused of illegal diamond exploration.

She was also ordered to leave the State House.

Wayward vice president

She is said to have moved there in 2010, shortly after she claimed to be the first daughter of the retired president, who reportedly used to pay for her upkeep, albeit surreptitiously.

KLEPTOCRACY

Even before that, President Lourenço fired his predecessor’s son, José Filomeno dos Santos, as the country’s head of the strategic $5 billion sovereign fund.

The president, who took over from dos Santos last August following an election marking the end of a 38-year reign characterised with kleptocracy, also dismissed Isabel dos Santos as the chairperson of the board of the state-owned AZ’oil firm Sonangol.

Reputedly Africa’s richest woman, Isabel is the former president’s eldest daughter.

In Equatorial Guinea, Carmelo Nvono Nca, the ambassador to the Netherlands, was busy defending his country and its wayward vice-president.

Waxing extremely patriotic, he reportedly claimed that the action by France was “an injustice (that) cannot be allowed”.

Clearly, there are many twists and turns in the war against corruption  and impunity in Africa, as well as in efforts to recover stolen loot.

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