Report Links Mercedes-Benz to Political Corruption in Angola

The investigations published by Maka so far have prompted an increasing interest in bringing to light new corruption cases, as was hoped from the beginning.

The most recent case that has come to our attention illustrates the role of foreign investment in broadening, consolidating and institutionalizing corrupt dealings with the country’s political leaders. This case involves the “general distributor of Mercedes Benz cars for Daimler in Angola.”

On 12 July 2009, the Minister of State and head of the Military Bureau in the Presidency of Angola, General Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias Júnior “Kopelipa,” set up the company Auto-Star Angola, with himself as majority shareholder. The deputy director of the Office of National Reconstruction (GRN), Manuel José Cardoso do Amaral Van-Dúnem, and the faithful depository of General Kopelipa’s businesses, were each granted a 10 percent shareholding. The businessmen Herculano Adelço de Morais and António de Lemos, received 30 percent and 10 percent of the shares respectively. 

The Web site of the Belgian company Societé de Distribution Africain (SDA) announced the creation of Auto Star with the intention of setting up “a Belgian and Angolan joint-venture that officially represents Mercedes and Evobus in Angola.” The Web site describes Auto Star Angola as a subsidiary of SDA and as having modern facilities including offices and salesrooms on a 2,000-meter site in the Viana industrial area in the suburbs of Luanda. The company’s own publicity brochure says the site is 89,000 000 meters in size with facilities “planned by Mercedes-Benz’s Architectural Office.” The site is in the Special Economic Zone in Viana, which falls under the jurisdiction of the GRN. Until last April the director of the GRN was General Kopelipa himself, while Manuel Van-Dúnem, his partner in Auto Star Angola, is still the GRN’s deputy director.

The foreign partners and the law

Societé de Distribution Africaine is a company created by its CEO, the Belgian Philippe de Moerloose. The Report of the United Nations Groupof Experts on the Democratic Republic of Congo, in November 2009, mentioned De Moerloose as having flouted UN Security Council Resolution nº 1807 (a, 5). This resolution provides that any consignment of weapons or related material to the DRC must be reported in advance to the UN, in accordance with its peace mission mandate in that country.

According to the report, Philippe de Moerloose holds 70 percent of the shares in Hewa Bora Airways, which was used to transport arms and ammunition to the Congolese army in 2008 and 2009. The same Philippe de Moerloose is also quoted in his capacity as founder and chairman of Demimpex, a company that served as an intermediary in the sale of military vehicles to the Congolese government in 2008. The experts confirmed with the Belgian authorities that Demimpex, now associated with Auto Star Angola, has no license for the import, export or transport of weapons, ammunition, military equipment and associated technology. The experts stressed that the relevant Belgian legislation applies to its citizens and companies, regardless of whether or not military material passes through Belgian territory.

On August 12 2010, the German ambassador to Angola, Jorgen-Werner Marquardt, gave an interview to Semanário Económico, the Angolan business weekly, in a move to promote German business interests. This newspaper belongs to the Media Nova group, owned by General Kopelipa in partnership with his current top adviser, General Leopoldino Fragoso do Nascimento, and Manuel Vicente, the chairman and CEO of Sonangol, the Angolan national oil company.

During the interview, Marquardt highlighted the investments of the German automobile industry in Angola:  “Mercedes has opened in Viana with a sales dealership and repair shop. It will also have the capacity to assemble trucks on a 500-hectare site. I hope to visit the location soon. There is also a similar project by Volkswagen, which is taking place.”

The chairman of the board of Auto Star Angola is Jörgen Nührmann, who among other posts at Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, was previously director of after-sales service in Mexico.

From the legal point of view, Angola’s current Law on Probity defines the receiving of economic advantage by a public official, in the form of a percentage of a business deal, as an act leading to illegal enrichment (article 2, 1, a). This is exactly what General Kopelipa and Manuel José Cardoso do Amaral Van-Dúnem when, as officials in the GRN, they acted in favour of Auto Star’s business.

SDA and Mercedes-Benz, for their part, engaged in acts defined by law as of active corruption of public officials (Article 21 of the Angolan Penal Code). It has become normal for foreign investors to ignore anti-corruption laws thanks to the impunity that they enjoy through their association with the regime’s most corrupt and abusive figures. Angolan law nevertheless incorporates international treaties against corruption, such as the United Nations Convention against Corruption. Belgium, SDA’s home country, became a signatory to the same convention on 25 September 2008.

The Law on Probity (article 31, 1, b) provides for several penalties such as seizure of the ill-gotten assets and their incorporation into state ownership, dismissal from public office and the surrender of goods acquired illegally by the public servants involved. The same article states that companies who break this law may be punished by being barred from entering into further contracts with public entities. This could apply to Auto Star Angola.


This is not the first time that the German car industry has been involved in influence-peddling in Angola. Volkswagen has already set a serious precedent. The Council of Ministers, in its Resolution 39/04 of 23 December 2004, authorized the National Private Investment Agency (ANIP) to enter into an investment contract with the American company Ancar World Investments Holding, for the installation of an assembly plant for Volkswagen and Skoda cars in Viana, Luanda: an investment valued at $48 million. The agreement was signed on 26 January 2005 and included an undertaking to concede 49 percent of the shares in Ancar to five Angolan entities, namely:

  • ACAPIR Lda., a company owned by the Angolan President’s daughter, Welwitchia dos Santos, usually known as Tchizé dos Santos;
  • Mbakassi  & Filhos, official representative of Volkswagen in Angola;
  • GEFI, a company owned by the MPLA;
  • Suninvest, the investment arm of the Fundação Eduardo dos Santos (FESA), the President’s private concern;
  • Tchany Perdigão Abrantes, the President’s niece.

The businessman António Mosquito objected to the arbitrary transfer of 16 percent of the shares that had belonged to his company, Mbakassi & Filhos, to Tchizé dos Santos who took on the role of vice-chair of Ancar’s board.

In an effort to settle the dispute, Ismael Diogo, the chairman of FESA, held a meeting at the president’s foundation headquarters. The minutes of the meeting stated that he did so on behalf and “according to a mandate from His Excellency the President of the Republic, Engineer José Eduardo dos Santos, to clarify the circumstances and the reality that ACAPIR Lda. would have to participate in the Ancar – Automoveis de Angola joint-venture, owing to the fact that one of the shareholders was the daughter of the head of state, to obtain his favour for the approval of the investment project.”

The meeting, according to the minutes, concluded that “at no moment did Ancar Worldwide Investments Holding justify the offer of 16 percent to ACAPIR Lda. in order to benefit from the favours of His Excellency, the President of the Republic, in the approval of the project.”

Consequently, according to reports in the German press, the Volkswagen head office delayed the building of the vehicle production line in Angola. More details are contained in the report “MPLA Ltd.”

In the words of an Angolan political analyst, who preferred to remain anonymous, “when it comes to doing business with the Angolan regime, foreign investors do not want to be left out from the corruption schemes.”


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