Portugal’s complacency towards corruption

Portugal’s ‘Golden Visa’ scheme, which gives fast-tracked residency permits in exchange for a one-time investment, fared no better. The scheme, which exists in many countries of the EU, has been lately the object of scrutiny by the European Parliament as is has become a magnet for kleptocrats the world over to use the EU as a safe haven and launder their money.

The most common path to residency has been investing in property. Portuguese officials in charge, however, inflated the price of real estate, allowing quicker access for rich foreigners. They also shared cuts themselves, all the way from government ministers to local officials. As a consequence, it can be argued that corruption in Portugal is institutional.

Following the 2008 financial crash, Portugal set about attracting foreign cash. Figures from the Bank of Portugal showed, for instance, that Angolan investments in Portugal increased from €645 million to €1.53 billion between 2010 and 2014. In 2013 alone, Portuguese expats in Angola sent back over €304 million to their struggling families back home.

Sectors at the highest risk of corruption were the first to be targeted. The real estate sector, the banking industry, and the media all saw huge investments. Austerity had sucked €29 billion out of Portugal’s economy, and Lisbon was happy to plug the gap with other countries’ shady money.

So came the unspoken sweetheart deal between Portugal, its media, and Angola’s elite.

The narrative went as follows: Angolans came to Portugal for higher education and tourism, and Portuguese nationals went to Angola for higher salaries and to escape from the European malaise to a new El Dorado. At the height of this reversal of fortunes, a Portuguese comedian in black face ran in and out of Lisbon’s most elite stores shouting “I’ll buy it all!”

Less comic, however, were Portuguese politicians taking every chance they could to cash in on the gold rush. Between 2007 and 2014, 27 former Portuguese ministers happened to find themselves in comfortable positions on the boards of Angolan or Angolan-dominated companies. Over 100 others found their way to profitable positions within the Portuguese economy, backed by Angolan capital.

In view of the scale of this trend, 2013, the OECD released a censorious statement saying: “Portugal’s enforcement of its foreign bribery laws has been extremely low. Not a single prosecution has resulted from 15 allegations of Portuguese companies bribing foreign officials in high-risk countries. Several investigations have been closed prematurely. Some allegations were not investigated at all.”

Corruption abroad

The lengths to which Portugal has gone to protect its international racket are as sensational as the scale of corruption itself. Take former Angolan Vice President Manuel Vicente, for example. Vicente was VP from 2012 to 2017 and, before this, head of state-owned oil company Sonangol. He is a close advisor to current President Joao Lourenco. While in charge of Sonangol, Vicente bought a luxury apartment in Portugal using USD 245,000 of suspected Sonangol funds. He then paid another USD 850,000 to prosecutor Orlando Figueira to drop the case. He also offered Figueira a comfortable position in an Angolan-owned bank. The scheme was exposed, and an investigation was opened in 2013.

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