Angola graft: Ministers probed

2010-02-19 08:29

Luanda - Government ministers and senior officials could be quizzed in a $137m embezzlement probe at Angola's central bank, the public prosecutor told AFP on Thursday.

"Anybody could be called to take part in this investigation," Joao Maria de Sousa said, asked if top-level officials could be questioned.

"All Angolan citizens are equal in the eyes of the law, so therefore we are not going to differentiate in terms of social status or other situation. Independently of who the person is, they will be called to take part."

So far 18 people, all lower-level central bank and finance ministry employees, have been arrested over the money transferred "with some expertise" out of the Banco Nacional de Angola between September and November last year, Maria de Sousa said.

"Money was sent to a variety of countries including Portugal, Germany, China, Dubai, Austria, Switzerland, the Cayman Islands and the US," he said.

Almost $100m have been retrieved, while luxury cars including such as Mercedes, BMWs, Bentleys and Porsches had also been seized as part of the investigation, he said.

Maria de Sousa denied reports that senior officials involved in the embezzlement had paid back cash to avoid prosecution.

"All people considered guilty of practising any crime to do with fraudulent transfers or theft will be held responsible," he said.

In December, Angola's president of 30 years Jose Eduardo dos Santos called for "zero tolerance" on corruption and an end to the "squandering of state resources". Last week he announced plans for a new anti-graft law.

International consulting firm Ernst & Young has been appointed to help Angola overhaul management of public finances.

Angola vies with Nigeria as Africa's largest oil producer, yet more than two thirds of the population live on less than $2 a day and one in six children die before their fifth birthday.