US firm goes on lobbying blitz in fight with Angola

US firm goes on lobbying blitz in fight with Angola
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A U.S. company is lobbying Congress and the Trump administration to intervene in a business dispute with the government of Angola.

Nevada-based Africa Growth Corporation (AFGC), a social-impact business that works to develop affordable housing in sub-Saharan Africa, alleges its properties in Angola were seized illegally by generals. 

The company sued in court and has even tried to block an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan to the country.

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Now, a lobbying blitz targeting members of the administration and Congress is raising the prospect of action in Washington.

“We’re talking to members of Congress and committees that have oversight toward Angola, IMF and the World Bank,” said Lester Munson, a principal at BGR Group, the powerhouse firm organizing the lobbying effort.

The company’s trouble began in dramatic fashion in the summer of 2017, when it says two properties the AFGC had purchased through a subsidiary were raided by troops with AK-47 assault rifles. 

“We were shocked,” said Scott Mortman, AFGC’s Executive Chairman. “When one acquires properties, whether in Angola or any other country, one does not expect that Angolan government officials including an Angolan general will come onto your property with private militias and AK-47s and claim it as their own.”

The company’s pro-social business model is to return part of its profits to investors, while using the rest to create affordable housing for low- and middle-income families, a model that had worked in Namibia.

Mortman, backed by a series of sworn affidavits filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia earlier this year, paints a dark picture of what happened.

The company alleges in court documents that the man leading the raid was Gen. António Andrade. When AFGC sought action, it discovered that the directorship of their Angolan subsidiary had been fraudulently changed .

The deeds for the properties, valued at over $30 million, had been transferred to Andrade’s daughter, according to the company’s court filings.

When an Angolan court sided with AFGC, Mortman says, the general refused to vacate the property, saying they were not subject to civilian orders.

A second order from a military court led to a brief evacuation, Mortman told The Hill, but the militia soon returned to the property.

For now, the company is turning to Washington for help.

Angola is seeking a $4.5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund and AFGC is hoping the U.S. government will hold that as leverage on its behalf as court cases to recover its properties proceed slowly.

Lobbyists have focused their efforts on both Congress and the administration.

“The US plays a huge goal in the IMF and there’s a sense among a lot of the people we’re talking to that Angola should do what’s right here,” said Munson.

The firm has facilitated meetings with a slew of lawmakers and is targeting those on the Senate Finance Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The effort has been bipartisan, with staffers from the offices of Sens. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBannon says an O'Rourke-Harris ticket poses the greatest threat to Trump in 2020 Jared Kushner's brother made last-minute donation to Beto O'Rourke Senate campaign Biden advisers mull launch naming Abrams as running mate: report MORE (D-N.J.) and Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonCrenshaw to Trump: 'Stop talking about McCain' Scaramucci: Trump McCain attacks are 'socially unnatural,' 'stupid' The Hill's Morning Report - Trump's intraparty feuds divide Republicans MORE (R-Ga.), who both sit on the Foreign Relations panel, attending meetings on the issue.

An aide to Rep. Chris SmithChristopher (Chris) Henry SmithThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority Tax Foundation: Bill to restore full SALT deduction would benefit high earners Trump should push to end persecution of Chinese Christians as part of trade negotiations MORE (R-N.J.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, said the issue had been raised with an Angolan delegation, and that they were pursuing further contact with Angola’s ambassador to the United States.

“The new government is striking the right tone but they’re inheriting these obligations that have not been paid, corruption attributable to the former government,” the aide told The Hill, referring to new Angolan leaders who are vowing to address corruption. “The sentiment is that action is absolutely necessary to restore confidence.”

The lobbying firm is also targeting officials from the State Department, Treasury Department and Commerce Department.

“Everyone’s been very sympathetic,” said Munson.

Another company, LS Energía, is also going after the Angolan government. It alleges it provided millions of dollars worth of energy to Angola and was stiffed on the bill.

The Angolan Embassy did not respond to a request for comment from The Hill.

International groups have long warned that corruption is pervasive in the country. Transparency International ranked Angola 167th of 180 countries in its Corruption Perceptions Index.

But there are growing hopes that will change. After 38 years of rule by President José Eduardo dos Santos, a new president, João Lourenço, took power last year promising to fight corruption.

AFGC says Lourenço has an opportunity to make his case that Angola is headed in a new direction.

“These acts were committed under the Dos Santos regime, prior to Lourenço taking office, but it has been incumbent on Lourenço and his administration to address these prior wrongs,” Mortman said.