The government of Angola, an African nation in the southern part of the continent bordering the Atlantic Ocean, has retained one of the biggest lobbying firms in Washington, DC, to help it clean up a mess it created when the nation severely harmed a number of American companies operating in Angola.
This all comes as the U.S. government continues to provide significant amounts of foreign aid to the country, even after Angola forcibly seized with armed and uniformed soldiers one U.S. company’s assets in the nation and had serious problems paying debts owed to two other U.S. companies.
This story of corruption in a despotic foreign country causing harm to American companies, and a third world regime spreading cash around K Street in Washington, D.C., to fuel continued inaction from the U.S. government seems almost too perfect a ripe opportunity for President Donald Trump to step in on behalf of American interests and stop it—all while draining the swamp. A Republican source with knowledge of the matter told Breitbart News that many GOP lawmakers frustrated with inaction from the State Department have begun reaching out directly to the president to voice their concerns with what happened in Angola—and the matter is starting to gain traction in Washington. In fact, some lawmakers intend to ask the president, per someone who has spoken multiple GOP U.S. Senators on the matter, to invoke Magnitsky Act sanctions against individuals in Angola responsible for harm to U.S. companies.
The State Department, an official confirmed to Breitbart News, is not happy with how Angola has handled these matters and confirmed U.S. officials have intervened with high-ranking Angolan government officials. The State Department, an official told Breitbart News, is also urging Angola to be more transparent with the international business community.
Meanwhile, U.S. taxpayers are pumping tens of millions of dollars in foreign aid into Angola annually. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which disburses aid to foreign countries, taxpayers have in 2018 and 2019 sent a total of about $76 million into Angola. USAID data published on the agency’s website reveals multiple seven-figure disbursements in the last year alone, despite the country’s mistreatment of American companies—and hiring of a D.C. lobbying firm for a seven-figure contract.
“It is unacceptable for nations who receive aid from U.S. taxpayers to turn around and use that aid to lobby Congress and the administration against flagrant violations committed back home,” a senior Senate GOP aide told Breitbart News on Tuesday. “People on Capitol Hill are paying close attention to this and current reports are very troubling.”
Rather than pay the money it agreed to in negotiations with one American company that saw its assets in Angola forcibly seized by armed uniformed soldiers, the government of Angola has hired Squire Patton Boggs to represent its interests in Washington and to try to smooth over its image with a lucrative one-year contract.
Squire Patton Boggs is one of Washington’s premiere lobbying firms with a number of top Republicans and Democrats on its payroll. Former House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, works for the lobbying firm, as does former Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY). Both were run out of office on Capitol Hill by insurgent populist political movements in America, Boehner by anti-establishment conservatives in 2015 and Crowley by socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) in 2018. In other words, Squire Patton Boggs is in the center of the swamp—part of a network of many lobbying firms of where many establishment figures in both political parties go when they leave elected office or others go to sell influence in Washington. The firm even formed a partnership with disgraced ex-Trump attorney Michael Cohen to bring it business in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s election, before Cohen’s crimes caught up with him. Cohen is currently serving a prison sentence in a federal penitentiary, but just weeks before federal agents raided his home and office in the first step of taking him down he was working in Squire Patton Boggs’ New York City offices.
A document filed on June 25 with the U.S. Department of Justice under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) shows that the Republic of Angola has retained Squire Patton Boggs for a one-year contract for $4.1 million. A letter dated June 18 from Squire Patton Boggs partner Robert S. Kapla, a former White House official from former Democrat President Bill Clinton’s administration, attached to the filing disclosing to the federal government that he is now a foreign agent for Angola, reveals that Kapla and another Squire Patton Boggs partner attorney Joseph Brand will be conducting a variety of services on behalf of Angola’s government here in the United States. Those services, according to the letter and accompanying documents, include bringing “Angola’s financial system up to international standards so commercial banks can resume dollar-denominated transactions,” increasing “US trade and investment” and enhancing “Angola’s profile in the United States.”
Squire Patton Boggs has a deeply troubled history as a law and lobbying firm in Washington, DC. The firm, previously just Patton Boggs, came upon seriously hard times when it faced allegations made by Chevron and its outside counsel in a court battle with Ecuadorian interests it represented in 2012 according to Politico “of participating in an extortion campaign rooted in the rain forest in Ecuador.” The huge gamble led to the firm’s near-demise, before Squire Sanders—another firm—stepped in to rescue the drowning Patton Boggs making it officially Squire Patton Boggs. In the years since, the firm has regrown into a powerhouse again. At the beginning of President Trump’s administration, Squire Patton Boggs found itself again in hot water for forming a partnership with President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen.
In May 2018, The Hill newspaper reported:
Squire Patton Boggs, whose Washington office is among the top 10 highest grossing lobbying shops in town, partnered up with Cohen after the election. He worked out of its New York office, but the firm says he did not serve as an employee and worked at arm’s length.
“At all times, Cohen maintained his independence, was not an employee of the firm, and did not maintain files or bill clients through the firm,” Squire Patton Boggs spokesman Angelo Kakolyris told The Hill.
That’s the same shell company that Cohen used to pay adult-film actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 before the 2016 election to keep quiet about her alleged affair with Trump.
Companies, including AT&T and the drug company Novartis, paid Cohen during the time he was working out of Squire Patton Boggs offices, but the firm says it wasn’t aware of the LLC or the payments.
“We have we never paid any money to, nor were we aware of, Essential Consultants LLC and we’ve never performed work for any of the identified entities as a result of our past arrangement with Cohen,” Kakolyris said.
It turns out, according to The Hill report, Squire Patton Boggs paid Cohen a whopping $500,000 per year retainer dubbed a “strategic alliance fee” along with a promise that he would get a cut of business he brought into Squire Patton Boggs.
As Cohen faced his demise, the firm cut its ties with him. But, now, Squire Patton Boggs representing Angola is raising eyebrows around Washington again as the premiere lobbying outfit’s newest client has a lurid history of severely harming U.S. companies.
The K Street powerhouse’s representation of Angola comes as at least three different U.S. companies with business interests in Angola have had serious problems receiving payments due to them from various agreements that the government there made, totaling at worst hundreds of millions of dollars taken from the U.S. companies by Angola but at best at least tens of millions of dollars. One American company that provided housing in Angola even alleges in court filings that the government there used military force to seize its assets in the country, while two others—energy companies that ran power plants in the country—have alleged that the African nation changed how it distributes energy in the middle of a contract upending how they were supposed to be paid for producing mass amounts of electricity.
Africa Growth Corporation (AFGC), the Nevada-based company that provided housing in Angola, says in a lawsuit filed in federal court in May that in 2015 it formed a number of subsidiaries in Angola’s capital Luanda and “managed apartment complexes on these properties and subsequently leased apartment units to Angolan residents and the employees of foreign companies operating in Angola.”
“AFGC intended to use the rental proceeds from the AFGC Properties to build and develop affordable housing units for low- to middle-income families in Angola,” AFGC says in the lawsuit filed against Angola’s government in a federal court in Florida. The AFGC Angolan Assets comprise a principal asset of AFGC.”
But then, at the end of 2016 and continuing subsequently, AFGC alleges that the government of Angola forcibly seized these assets, which included physical property and bank accounts.
“Beginning in late 2016, Angola, through high-ranking government officials and government agencies, conspired to use fraudulent documents, abuse of power, forgery, intimidation and force of arms to gain control over the AFGC Angolan Subsidiaries in order to seize and expropriate the AFGC Angolan Assets,” the lawsuit continues. “These actions were taken in clear violation of Angolan and international law.”
A source with direct knowledge of the matter who has traveled to Africa and Europe about this case in particular told Breitbart News that while the lawsuit does not state it outright, armed and uniformed soldiers seized the property by force.
“Uniformed soldiers literally showed up carrying AK-47s and took possession of the property,” the source told Breitbart News.
It is unclear under whose authority these soldiers were acting, and what military force exactly it was that seized the American company’s assets by force at gunpoint. It’s also unclear if any Americans were on site when this happened, or only local Angolan workers for the American company.
Africa Growth’s Florida-based attorney, Harold Patricoff of the firm Shutts & Bowen’s Miami office, confirmed the story to Breitbart News of armed Angolan soldiers in uniform forcibly seizing AFGC’s assets at gunpoint.
“Our property was seized, I’m talking about our being Africa Growth,” Patricoff said when reached by phone on Tuesday afternoon. “They showed up with armed forces and they physically took control of our property after an Angolan judge had ordered the property to be returned to my clients.”
“It’s outrageous,” Patricoff, who also represents two other American companies severely harmed by Angola, added.
The timeframe in which this was happening was during the transfer of power from the administration of now former President José Eduardo dos Santos to the current president, João Lourenço. Dos Santos had served as president of Angola for 39 years, unchallenged, and shocked the world when he announced he was stepping down in 2017. At the end of his administration, as Lourenço was about to take power, Dos Santos installed a number of loyalists including family members in key government agencies and financial institutions, solidifying his control of the state. Lourenço has removed many of these people from these positions, installing his own loyalists around government and in key industry positions.
Both Dos Santos and Lourenço have deep ties to anti-American regimes worldwide. They both are Soviet Union-trained, Dos Santos having earned a degree from behind the Red Curtain in the 1960s in then-Soviet Union territory Azerbaijan and Lourenço attended the Lenin Higher Academy in the Soviet Union in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Angolan leadership under both presidents has maintained particularly close ties with communist Cuba, and with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. In the 1970s, Fidel Castro sent tens of thousands of Cubans—civilians and military personnel alike—to Angola to help its socialist leaders remain in power. That solidified Dos Santos’ rule, as in the immediate aftermath of Cuba’s intervention in Angola he rose to power and remained there for 39 years. But even long after, as recently as now, Lourenço’s administration remains close with the communists in Cuba. In fact, Lourenço made a two-day official visit to Cuba at the end of June and beginning of July just a couple weeks ago.
After the Angolan seizure of AFGC assets, the company sought out a settlement from the Angolan government—only to be rebuffed despite a promise by an official representative of the authoritarian regime’s president that the nation would pay up for the cost of the assets seized.
“Since the unlawful seizure and expropriation of the AFGC Angolan Assets, AFGC’s efforts to obtain legal remedy and compensation in Angola have been blocked, ignored and commercially hindered,” the lawsuit continues. “Indeed, the Angolan Government has actively refused to enforce orders of the Angolan Court in support of AFGC.”
Since Angolan authorities blocked AFGC’s retrieval of its assets and lost revenues from its properties, the company filed an action in U.S. court in late 2017 seeking their recovery. That led to in early 2019 a letter that was hand-delivered to the new president of Angola, João Lourenço, who assumed office in 2017 after the nation’s previous president of 39 years José Eduardo dos Santos stepped down.
In the January 7, 2019, letter to Lourenço, AFGC’s executive chairman Scott Mortman wrote that at the end of the previous president’s regime the government forcibly took over AFGC’s assets in Angola.
“As you are aware, beginning in late 2016, the Republic of Angola, through numerous high-ranking government officials and government agencies, effected an expropriation and unlawful transfer of title to real property, bank accounts, corporate funds and other properties (collectively, the ‘AFGC Assets’) belonging to AFGC’s Angolan subsidiaries,” Mortman wrote. “Specifically, senior Angolan government officials and entities, acting on behalf of the Angolan government, took a series of government- sanctioned actions to deprive AFGC of the AFGC Assets, which resulted in over U.S. $55 million of unpaid damages to AFGC.”
In the next paragraph, Mortman names several military and federal officials in Angola who carried this out.
“The theft of the AFGC Assets was not committed simply by Angolan Army General Antonio Francisco Andrade, Angolan Army Captain Miguel Kenehele Andrade and current Angolan State Prosecutor Natasha Andrade Santos (the ‘Andrades’),” Mortman wrote. “Rather, whether through complicity, coercion, bribery or other means, several Angolan government agencies and officials conspired with and actively supported the Andrades in the expropriation of the AFGC Assets, thereby furthering the liability of the Republic of Angola to AFGC for these unlawful and coordinated actions.”
The letter goes on to detail many others in and connected to the Angolan government who were part of this seizure of AFGC’s assets.
The letter to the president of Angola led to Lourenço officially designating a representative of his government to negotiate a settlement with AFGC over the seized assets. The meeting at which the two sides negotiated occurred in February in Lisbon, Portugal, and the lawsuit and supporting attached documentation demonstrate that the representative of Angola’s president even admits that the Angolan general, Andrade, that AFGC’s executive chairman named in his letter to Angola’s president, “invaded the buildings” that were AFGC’s assets.
AFGC told Breitbart News in a statement that it is outrageous that the U.S. taxpayers continue to funnel millions of dollars in foreign aid into Angola only for the country to turn around and spend millions on a lobbying firm contract in Washington, D.C.,all while refusing to pay its debts.
“Africa Growth Corp is one of several US companies that collectively invested over $100 million in Angola only to have their assets seized and agreements breached by the Angolan government,” AFGC said in a statement to Breitbart News. “This same Angolan government — which receives some $80 million per year from the US taxpayers — is now spending $4 million a year on a DC lobbying firm to draw attention away from the damage they have done to US companies. The Angolan government should not be allowed to use prior US investment that was unlawfully seized to lure in new and unsuspecting US investors.”
Trump loyalists are close to the case as well, pushing the president and his administration to do something to back up America’s interests over Angola’s interests. “If they’ve got $4 million to spend on fancy K Street lobbyists, the Trump administration should take a long hard look at the tens of millions in US taxpayer funded aid that the Angolan government receives,” Arthur Schwartz, a GOP consultant advising AFGC with deep ties to the Trump White House and Republicans on Capitol Hill, told Breitbart News. “That money would be better spent on American interests.”
Schwartz said this is “exactly the kind of thing” to which Trump’s America First ideology is opposed.
“That’s US taxpayer money that the Angolans are handing over to their foreign agents on K Street,” Schwartz said. “This is exactly the kind of thing that the president and his supporters hate about the Washington swamp.”
While the AFGC case is the most recent and perhaps most egregious example of mistreatment of American companies by Angola’s government, two other fairly prominent cases were filed by two different Florida-based energy companies against Angola in 2017.
Per a lawsuit filed by Jacksonville, Florida, based APR Energy in May 2017, Angola did not pay for energy production by APR in Angola at various power plants—and the government even apparently lost the equivalent of $36 million U.S. dollars in Angolan Kwanza, 6 billion in the local currency, at one point. APR and the Angolan government, according to the lawsuit, entered into multiple contracts over several years where APR would operate various power plants to provide power needs to the Angolan capital Luanda and throughout the country. While the government did pay some of its obligations, the lawsuit says the Angolan regime was always behind in payments—until in January 2016 the government of Angola admitted in a debt acknowledgment and settlement agreement that it owed APR energy more than $57 million and agreed to pay in installments. But then, the government fell behind again and the American company eventually sought recourse through U.S courts. Angola only paid up on its agreed-upon settlement, the Miami-based attorney Patricoff who also represents APR told Breitbart News, because APR was about to seize two Angolan tankers docked in Miami full of crude oil with a court order.
“That one was settled and paid in full but only after we literally put a gun to their head and threatened to seize two of their tankers, super tankers full of crude oil that were docked at U.S. ports,” Patricoff said in a phone interview regarding the APR case. “We literally had them in a position where they couldn’t say no in the APR case. But we literally had to put them under a threat of seizure of millions of gallons of crude oil to force them to pay in the APR case—they paid in full, but only after they were under threat of having their crude oil seized. In Florida, you are allowed to do a pre-judgment seizure to collect a debt that is owed and we were prepared to do that and on the verge of doing that—we had located two vessels that were full of Angolan crude and we had notified the government that if they didn’t pay within a certain number of hours we were going to execute upon those rigs and we got immediately paid.”
The third company, also a Florida-based energy company, LS Energia, had a similar experience to APR’s, according to 2017 court filings. A lawsuit brought by the company shows that it was shorted millions of dollars in payments, but Angola eventually finally paid everything except an outstanding debt of approximately $800,000.
“Members of Congress have written them and inquired—they are not responding to the congressional inquiries, so we’re about to sue them again in South Florida, over LS Energia in addition to the Africa Growth suit,” Patricoff said regarding the LS Energia case. “The government, even though they say they are committed to having changed and are now committed more than ever to being responsible corporate citizens, they’re simply not. I haven’t seen much difference between the new government and the old government.”
The U.S. government, including the State Department and Congress, Patricoff says, has been “very helpful.”
“They’re doing everything that I think they can short of passing sanctions against the government of Angola,” Patricoff said. “Many congressmen and senators have written letters. The U.S. ambassador in Angola has been extremely active in advocating our case. The U.S. government has been supportive. The Angolan government is not responding, and they’re being very, very disrespectful of our client’s property rights in Angola.”
A State Department official confirmed to Breitbart News that the U.S. government is not pleased with the way Angola has handled this matter and that the U.S. urges Angola to resolve it.
“Promoting U.S. trade and investment is one of our highest foreign policy priorities in Africa, and the United States engages robustly to advance U.S. commercial interests and to support U.S. companies by providing a range of trade and investment support services,” a State Department official told Breitbart News. “American companies have been present in the Angolan market for more than 50 years and are among the largest foreign investors in Angola. Angola is the third-largest trading partner of the United States in sub-Saharan Africa with bilateral goods trade valued at 3.28 billion dollars in 2018. The U.S. Government, through Embassy officials and various high-level visitors, has raised the African Growth Corporation’s case at many levels with the Government of Angola, including directly with the President on more than one occasion. U.S. companies investing in Angola seek a level playing field, predictable policies, and a dispute resolution process that follows the rule of law. We continue to encourage the Government of Angola to increase transparency and fairness in its business environment. Due to ongoing litigation, we have no further comment.”
Kapla, on behalf of Squire Patton Boggs, provided a brief comment to Breitbart News indicating that the firm is aware of Angola’s serious problems with these American companies.
“We are aware of the dispute,” Kapla said in an email. “One of our jobs is to work to foster a more productive business exchange between the US and Angola that promotes American interests, rather than ceding the economic and strategic playing field in the region to others.”