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Court sentences ex-president’s son to 5 years for $1.5B fraud

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Angola’s top court on Friday sentenced the son of ex-president Jose Eduardo dos Santos to five years in prison for diverting oil revenues, making him the highest-profile figure in the former regime to face jail for graft.

Jose Filomeno dos Santos, 42, was summoned before the Supreme Court in December over allegations he tried to embezzle up to $1.5 billion (1.3 billion euros) from Angola’s sovereign wealth fund, which he oversaw from 2013 to 2018.

Nicknamed “Zenu”, dos Santos was charged with stealing $500 million from the fund and transferring it to a Swiss bank account.

“For the crime of fraud… and for the crime of peddling influence… the legal cumulus condemns him to a single sentence of five years in prison,” Supreme Court judge Joao da Cruz Pitra said.

Three co-defendants, including the former governor of the national bank of Angola (BNA) Valter Filipe da Silva, were sentenced to between five and eight years in prison for fraud, embezzlement and influence peddling.

All four were acquitted of money-laundering charges. They had previously denied any wrongdoing.

Both Zenu and da Silva’s lawyers told reporters they would appeal.

“I do not agree with the sentence,” said Sergio Raimundo, whose client da Silva was handed the longest eight-year jail penalty.

“We will argue our technical and legal allegations, and if we do not succeed here we will turn to other institutions.”

Zenu’s lawyer Antonio Gentil told AFP there was “no evidence” his client had diverted funds into personal accounts.

– Family under fire –
Zenu is the first member of the former presidential family to be prosecuted as part an anti-graft campaign led by President Joao Lourenco, who came to power in 2017.

In February, Angolan investigators froze the assets of Zenu’s billionaire half-sister Isabel dos Santos, dubbed Africa’s richest woman by Forbes magazine.

She is being probed for a long list of crimes in Angola, including mismanagement, embezzlement and money laundering during her stewardship of the state-run oil giant Sonangol.

Lourenco has mainly targeted the family members of his predecessor, who appointed relatives and friends to key positions during his 38-year rule — leaving a legacy of poverty and nepotism.

Isabel was ousted as Sonangol chair just months after Lourenco took power.

She has vehemently denied the accusations against her and denounced Luanda’s actions as a politically-motivated “witch-hunt”.

Only a small elite have benefitted from Angola’s vast oil and mineral reserves.

The southwest African country has been slow to recover from a 1975-2002 civil war. Large pockets of the population live in poverty with limited access to basic services.

Most of the ex-president’s family have moved abroad since he stepped down, and jet between homes in London, Dubai and Portugal.

Dos Santos’ second daughter Welwitchia was suspended from parliament early this year — where she had served since 2008 — after lawmakers voted that her extended absence amounted to unjust enrichment.

Following her brother’s conviction, she accused Lourenco of unjustly targeting the dos Santos family for political reasons.

“Do not forget that Zenu is a member of the (ruling) MPLA party,” Welwitchia told AFP after the verdict. “Lourenco (is) using the children to harm the politically stronger father.” Agence France-Presse

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