LISBON (Reuters) - A Portuguese court on Thursday ruled that former Angolan Vice President Manuel Vicente, accused by Portuguese prosecutors of corruption and money laundering, can be tried in Angola, which Portugal hopes will remove a major thorn in the bilateral ties.
The long-running case, which will now be sent to the African nation, has angered Angolan authorities, including its new president, Joao Lourenco, who argued that the investigation by Angola’s former colonial master challenged his country’s sovereignty.
Lourenco, who has vowed to clamp down on widespread corruption in his country insisted that Angola should judge any perpetrators. He took over last year after a nearly four decade rule by his predecessor, Jose Eduardo dos Santos. Most Angolans live in poverty despite the country’s massive oil wealth.
Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Souza said the court’s decision “removes an irritant” in the bilateral ties. Angola is Portugal’s major trading partner and tens of thousands of Portuguese live and work there.
Vicente’s lawyers, cited by Lusa news agency, said they were satisfied with the decision.
Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva told SIC television: “The effect of this decision for foreign policy ... should create conditions for the deepening of the bilateral relations”.
“Angola has been seeing this issue as an obstacle not allowing the relationship to reach a higher level which can now be easily attained. It is now a job for us, diplomats, to make it possible.”
Last month, Lourenco relieved the Angolan ambassador to Lisbon of his duties, but did not name a new envoy in a sign of pressure on Portugal to give up the Vicente case.
Vicente, who was once seen as a possible successor to President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, is accused of bribing a magistrate in Portugal when he was chief executive of Angolan state oil company Sonangol. He has denied any wrongdoing and has not visited Portugal since the investigation began.
Former Portuguese prosecutor, Orlando Figueira, who was arrested in early 2016, is on trial on charges of receiving a bribe of 760,000 euros ($850,000) to suspend an inquiry into Vicente’s dealings in Portugal before he became vice president.
According to local media, the investigation that was suspended in January 2012 focused on the origin of funds with which Vicente had bought a luxury apartment in Lisbon.
Angola ranked 167th of 180 countries in Transparency International’s 2017 Corruption Perceptions index.
Reporting By Andrei Khalip