Angola is not looking well on news that vice-president Manuel Vicente – a strong contender for taking on the presidency next year – has been cited in a corruption probe going under the unlikely name of Operation Fizz.
Portuguese media revealed last week that Vicente stands accused of corruption, money laundering and forgery in an “explosive investigation” that also involves former public prosecutor Orlando Figueira – initially jailed last year, and now being held under house arrest (click here).
The gist of Fizz is that “the number 2 of José Eduardo dos Santos’ government is the principal suspect of having corrupted the magistrate (Figueira) into archiving investigations opened against him”, explains Observador.
At least two investigations were shelved by Figueira, purportedly in return for payments of up to €800,000 (this amount varies according to which newspapers one reads).
As Observador adds, this case is explosive not simply because of the high rank held by Vicente – who denies all the charges – but because of the other VIPs in the Angolan regime that it is believed to have involved.
Needless to say, Angola – very much like Brazil – may share the Portuguese language with Portugal, but it does not go in for legal niceties like extradition agreements.
Thus Portugal’s request for Vicente to be interrogated and cited as an official arguido met with curt refusal the first time, and a second letter rogatory expedited by DCIAP last week and sent to the Angolan Attorney General appears be going the same way.
For now – as national media suggests the next step could be Portugal’s request for an international arrest warrant, meaning that “Vicente could be arrested in any country that would accept to comply with a request for international help” – Angola’s ministry for exterior relations has drawn a line in the sand.
Classifying Portugal’s treatment of the situation as “unfriendly and disproportionate”, it has “alerted” to the fact that the accusation threatens bilateral relations, reports Diário de Notícias.
As far as Angolan authorities are concerned, the allegations have been pushed through by “forces interested in perturbing or even destroying the friendly relations that exist between the two States”.
The ministry’s statement adds that it is clear that “whenever relations stabilise and reach new plateaux, pseudo-facts are created which prejudice the real interests of the two countries, damaging the sovereignty of Angola, and high-ranking entities in the country through lies and defamation”.
Angolan authorities clearly believe this episode should be tidied away as quickly as possible, leaving Portugal and Angola to concentrate on “mutually advantageous relations, synergies and other initiatives for deepening economic, cultural, diplomatic, social and (of course) political cooperation”.
If this was a game of how long people could exchange a very hot potato, the spud is firmly back in Portugal’s lap.
Operation Fizz is already causing diplomatic ructions, as last week’s visit to Angola by Justice Minister Francisca van Dunem was delayed at the 11th hour “sine die” (with no replacement date given) – and prime minister António Costa is due for an official state visit to the African country ‘some time this spring’ (date still to be confirmed).