Portugal Dominated Angola for Centuries. Now the Roles Are Reversed.

“And suddenly they were able to help us and to buy things that we cannot buy,” he said. “It was like a housekeeper buying your house. That is awkward.”

The conditions in both countries created a perfect match: As Portugal reeled from a financial crisis a few years ago, Angolans were enjoying an oil boom that provided enormous opportunities for self-enrichment by the elite, particularly the president’s family and inner circle.

Angola is often listed as one of the world’s most corrupt nations. And Portugal has been singled out for its laxness in reining in money laundering and bribery, particularly in its dealings with Angolans, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the research and policy organization of the world’s richest countries.

“In Angola, they call Portugal the laundromat,” said Ana Gomes, a Portuguese lawmaker in the European Parliament and a member of Portugal’s governing Socialist Party. “It’s because it is.”

But the two nations’ relationship has now slipped into a tense and fluid period. Oil prices are down and Portugal’s economy is reviving, leading to a tweaking in the balance of powers between the two countries. And Mr. dos Santos is due to step down after Angolans elect a new president on Wednesday, leaving the future of those who have benefited from his four decades in power — both in Angola and in Portugal — unclear.

In a case that has angered the Angolan government, Angola’s vice president, Manuel Vicente, was charged in February with paying a $810,000 bribe to a Portuguese judge to quash a corruption investigation, the furthest an Angola-related case has moved in Portugal’s judicial system. The vice president was accused of, among other things, laundering money by buying apartments in the “Angolans’ building” on the coast of Cascais. He has denied the allegations.

With billions invested in Portugal, including in some of its biggest public companies, the Angolans have bought Portuguese wineries, newspapers, sports teams and other trophies of the super rich. With Portugal giving them access to the rest of Europe and beyond, they have been catapulted, in a few short years, to the world’s jet set.


The Lisbon headquarters of NOS, the Portuguese telecom company in which Isabel dos Santos, the oldest child of Angola’s president, own shares.

Patricia de Melo Moreira for…

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