Angolan Leader Denies Targeting Predecessor's Family in Shake-Up

(Bloomberg) -- Angolan President Joao Lourenco denied he’s targeting the family of his predecessor, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, whose eldest daughter was among hundreds of officials fired after he took the helm of Africa’s second-biggest oil producer in September.

“This isn’t about chasing people,” Lourenco told reporters Monday in the capital, Luanda. “It’s about fixing situations that proved to be harmful to the public interest.”

Since replacing Dos Santos, Lourenco has removed his daughter, Isabel, as chairwoman of the state-owned oil company Sonangol, and fired the central bank governor and the head of diamond company Endiama. He’s also terminated management contracts for state TV channels with two of Dos Santos’ younger children. The string of dismissals has earned Lourenco the nickname of the “relentless remover.”

Lourenco, a former defense minister, on Monday said he’d continue shaking up the business environment inherited from Dos Santos, who ruled for 38 years and whose family and allies still control huge sectors of the economy. Under Lourenco’s leadership, all public building projects will have to go through tender processes instead of being directly granted, he said.

Transparency International has ranked Angola among the world’s 20 most-corrupt nations for at least the past three years.

‘Widespread’ Corruption

“Corruption happens because there is impunity,” Lourenco said. “That’s the reason why corruption is widespread at all levels -- from the person who asks for a bribe on the street to those who hold prominent positions.”

Isabel dos Santos also controls Unitel SA, Angola’s largest mobile-phone company, owns supermarket chain Candando and has stakes in Angolan lenders Banco BIC and Banco de Fomento Angola SA and several companies in Portugal. Bloomberg estimates her net worth at $2.5 billion.

Another of the ex-president’s children, Jose Filomeno, heads Angola’s $5 billion sovereign wealth fund, and came under fire last year following a report by Swiss newspaper Le Matin Dimanche claiming the fund’s assets are being mismanaged. Lourenco said the Angolan government has hired a company to review the fund’s accounts and will carry out measures to have more control over the so-called Fundo Soberano de Angola.

“In regards to the sovereign fund, I wouldn’t say that I will dismiss the board, but it could happen,” he said.

Government Direction

Dos Santos. 75, left the nation’s highest office in September, but remained the head of the ruling Movement for the Liberation of Angola, allowing him to control the direction of the government. Dos Santos said last year he planned to abandon active politics in 2018.

Lourenco said there was no need to be impatient about the timing of Dos Santos’ departure from the ruling party’s presidency.

“It’s up to him to say if he will fulfill that commitment,” Lourenco said, referring to Dos Santos promise to step down. “I don’t think we have reasons to be impatient because only eight days have passed since the start of the year. Eight days is nothing and we will wait to see what the future brings.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.