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The Alvaro Sobrinho Affair: President and P.M. Entrapped


The Angolan billionaire banker, Alvaro Sobrinho, who fell from grace after billions of dollars in loans could not be justified at the Banco Espirito Santo of Angola that he had headed, and who had seemed to clear his name in 2015 when charges against him were finally dropped, seems now to have caught an ambitious Mauritian President and an opportunist Finance Minister now also Prime Minister, in his plans to make a come-back into finance capital. His come-back was through the double-barrelled strategy of “philanthropy” plus “investment banking” in Mauritius. As all this becomes public, it is, rightly, causing a political storm in Mauritius.

In fact, the political consequences for Mauritius might be long-lasting.

Prosecutor who dropped charges, himself charged

All the scandal surrounding Alvaro Sobrinho is coming to the surface right now with the change in Portugal to a left-wing Government at the end of 2015. Corruption at high levels between Angola, the ex-colony of Portugal, that has been ruined by corruption around its oil and diamonds, and the metropolis at Lisbon, through which a great deal of the corruption is funnelled, is all gradually being exposed. In particular, the Vice President of Angola, and former CEO of an oil company, Manuel Vicente, is being charged with bribing the Prosecutor to drop charges in cases in Portugal including the one that involves Alvaro Sobrinho and the Bank of the Holy Spirit he was in charge of.

Microsoft puts Billions in Mauritian President’s Hands

The first thing that ordinary people in Mauritius knew about the man Alvaro Sobrinho and, at the same time, about his link with the Mauritian President Dr. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim was the publication in all the Press of a paid ad on 26 November, 2016 with a photo of each of them as its centre-piece. The ad came in response, it seemed, to a series of criticisms of the President for going abroad on trips too often. The President had first replied that people should look instead at how much money she brought the country. And then the curious ad, showing just how much, popped up.

Linux plan abandoned

At the time in LALIT, when the Government had veered from leaning towards Linux systems to end up with Microsoft for all Primary Schools, we were stupefied to see that someone in the honorific role of President of the Republic should be accepting to ladle out oodles of dollars from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, whose money comes from the private company, Microsoft.

Paid ad

The paid add read as follows, under the pictures of Sobrinho and Gurib-Fakim, and under the written heading Planet Earth Scientific Independence for Africa and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. We will quote the entire text: “PLANET EARTH INSTITUTE WINS THE BILL & MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION GRANT TO SUPPORT PRESIDENT AMEENAH GURIB-FAKIM TO CHAMPION THE CAUSE FOR AFRICAN SCIENCE. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest private foundation in the world and announced this year a commitment to spend $5 billion USD on the African continent in the next five years, with a focus on scientific research. The new grant will specifically support the participation of the Planet Earth Institute in major international events alongside global leaders for the next three years. President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim will spearhead this initiative.

“The Partnership will allow the Planet Earth Institute (PEI) to increase efforts to bring new scientific and technological investments to Mauritius and to Africa, in areas such as healthcare, agriculture and renewable energy. PEI will support investments in these fields through the construction of a dedicated building and support business incubators in Ebene. This project has recently been approved by the authorities concerned in Mauritius.” At the bottom is a slogan “We’re building a movement for science in Africa. JOIN US.”

But, now there are many more questions than the issue, important as it is, of conflict-of-interest in a President of Mauritius being in charge of Microsoft’s billions.

A President in Trouble

Should she ever even fly around the globe, paid for by anything other than State funds, or her own savings?

Why, instead of talking about science and knowledge, does she always have a discourse on science and business entrepreneurship?

There is the question of why the President did not know that Sobrinho had been inculpated in the Banking scandal in Angola and Portugal before going into an NGO partnership with him. Or, if she did know, was her judgment faulty?

And is it possible that Planet Earth Institute on its website has a huge reproduction of the Republic of Mauritius coat-of-arms? As though it is part of the State of Mauritius?

There is also the question of Sobrinho’s double-barrelled attack – getting the President of the Republic on board in apparent philanthropy, and simultaneously getting his own private business companies registered, in the financial services sector here.

A Prime Minister in Trouble, too

And it is here that we come to the question being posed concerning the new Prime Minister, Pravind Jugnauth. When he was Finance Minister and not yet also Prime Minister, he brought in new legislation which everyone found curious. It was to permit the licensing of “investment banks” through the Financial Services Commission, thus circumventing the Bank of Mauritius. In fact, the Bank of Mauritius seems to have refused Alvaro Sobrinho a banking license. So, in August 2016 there is a new legal framework permitting an investment bank to get around this veto. And his company registers soon afterwards with the FSC. Now, the Bank of Mauritius has given a statement to the Police that an entity not registered with it as a Bank is due to operate as a Bank. The total incoherence of this Government is symbolized in this strange state of Affairs.  In fact, three or four of Sobrinho’s companies, get registered. At the time, it was the former Good Governance Minister, Roshi Bhadain, who was in charge of the FSC. Why did the FSC give the license? Who was responsible for the pressure to change the law?

The Way Finance Capitalists Operate

How do all these business interests impinge on the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister? The Press is somewhat obsessed with who drives the seven Jaguars and Land Rovers that  Alvaro Sobrinho imports. And this is perhaps relevant as an indicator of the way in which Alvaro Sobrinho operates. Where he needs influence, he operates on three levels: He uses philanthropy and NGOs to dangle money before the eyes of some people, offers of FDI to dangle before the eyes of “the country” (for “the country” read “the bourgeoisie”) and hopefully all in it, and sheer riches to dangle in the eyes of yet others, in particular those who make laws and take decisions.