Angola officials held hidden oil stakes

Manuel Domingos Vicente, head of Angola's powerful state oil company Sonangol and right-hand man of Angola's President, speaks on Febuary 25, 2011.

Story highlights

  • Three powerful officials in Angola have held concealed interests in an oil venture
  • Could raise questions about compliance with US anti-corruption laws

Three of the most powerful officials in Angola have held concealed interests in an oil venture with Cobalt International Energy, the Goldman Sachs-backed explorer whose operations in one of the world's most promising energy frontiers are under investigation by US authorities, the Financial Times has learned.

The recently departed head of the national oil company and an influential general confirmed to the FT last week that they and another general have held shares in Nazaki Oil and Gáz, the local partner in a Cobalt-led deepwater venture launched in early 2010.

Warning its shareholders that it might face liabilities under US anti-corruption laws, Houston-based Cobalt said in February that the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice were investigating its Angolan operations.

The three men's previously opaque shareholdings in Cobalt's local partner could raise questions about compliance with US anti-corruption law, which makes it a crime to pay or offer anything of value to foreign officials to win business.

Manuel Vicente, who was the head of state-owned Sonangol until his appointment in January as minister of state for economic co-ordination, and General Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias Júnior, known as Kopelipa, the head of the presidency's military bureau, confirmed their holdings in Nazaki in near-identical letters.

As head of Sonangol, Mr Vicente oversaw Africa's second-biggest oil industry. Asked whether they had exerted any influence over the award of Cobalt's oil rights, Mr Vicente and Gen Kopelipa denied wrongdoing. They said they had held their Nazaki interests "always respecting all Angolan legislation applicable to such activities, not having committed any crime of abuse of power and/or trafficking of influence to obtain illicit shareholder advantages".

They said their interests and those of General Leopoldino Fragoso do Nascimento were held through Grupo Aquattro Internacional. Aquattro is named as a Nazaki shareholder in two company documents from 2007 and 2010 obtained by the FT. They said Aquattro had been "recently dissolved" but did not say whether they had disposed of their interests in Nazaki.

Gen Fragoso do Nascimento, a former head of communications in the presidency, did not respond to requests for comment.

Mr Vicente and Gen Kopelipa added: "Should the continued operation of Cobalt in the Angolan petroleum sector be unviable as a result of any failure to comply with any American law, there will certainly be [Angolan] and/or foreign entities interested in substituting for it in the assets it owns in Angola." Gen Kopelipa added that "that hopefully will not happen".

Responding to FT inquiries about the three officials, Cobalt stressed that its extensive and ongoing due diligence "has not found any credible support for [the] central allegation that Angolan government officials, and specifically the officials identified . . . have any ownership in Nazaki". It would be happy to review any proof.

"Cobalt has at all times complied fully with both US and Angolan laws," it said. Nazaki, which did not respond to a request for comment, denied the allegation, Cobalt said.

Goldman, one of Cobalt's founding investors and its biggest shareholder, declined to comment, as did the SEC and DoJ. Sonangol did not respond to requests for comment.

      CNN recommends

    • pkg clancy north korea nuclear dreams_00002004.jpg

      North Korea nuclear dream video

      As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
    • Photos: Faces of the world

      Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
    • pkg rivers uk football match fixing_00005026.jpg

      How to fix a soccer match

      Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
    • No Eiffel Towers, Statues of Liberties, Mt. Rushmores, Taj Mahals, Aussie koalas or Chairman Maos.

      15 biggest souvenir-buying no-no's

      It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.