While Angola’s Vernon Group is a public entity and money-making venture, as exhibited by its luxurious office building in Luanda, Angola’s poverty-stricken capital, insider reports suggest Vernon’s success is partially attributable to close family ties between the company’s partner and the CEO and chairman of Sonangol, Angola’s national oil company.
Is Vernon Group a family company? To outsiders, certainly not. But insiders aware of the company’s history and operations know that Vernon Group Partner and Executive Director Mirco Martins is the stepson of Manuel Vicente, who presently serves as CEO and chairman of Sonangol. Recent press reports suggest Manuel Vicente has been using Sonangol to personally profit from a range of self-dealing schemes with Chinese intelligence and Israeli diamond and real estate magnates.
In December 2003, World Oil reported that Vernon and Baker Petrolite (Baker Hughes), the world’s third largest oilfield services company, formed a new venture with Sonangol. The venture was established to provide oilfield chemicals and services to oil field companies operating in Angola—a big-money deal reportedly enabled by the private relationship between Manuel Vicente of Sonangol and his stepson Mirco Martins at Vernon Group. Baker Hughes made news headlines around the same time, when the company was charged on multiple counts of bribery, purportedly to have acted illegally to secure lucrative contracts.
Further, according to Portuguese daily newspaper Público, Manuel Vicente owned 4.9 percent of Portuguese bank BIG. This bank has under its custody Sonangol’s 10 percent in Portugal’s largest-listed bank Millennium BCP. Manuel Vicente ultimately transferred his share stake in BIG to a company called Edimo, whose Chairman is none other than Vernon Group’s Mirco Martins. Edimo operates numerous businesses in Angola, including oil-related services, real estate development and agribusiness.
Thanks to the familial relationship between Manuel Vicente and Mirco Martins, Angola’s most profitable ventures—Vernon Group and Sonangol—are able to establish lucrative deals that personally and financially benefit the company’s owners. This form of illegal self-enrichment that bolsters Angola’s top officials while leaving the government and citizens cut out of shareholding positions and profit cuts must be stopped.