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Anti-Corruption Group Urges Angola to Drop Espionage Charges Against British Activist

A prominent anti-corruption campaign group is hoping the Angola government will act today to release a British woman researcher, arrested over the weekend in oil-rich Cabinda province on suspicion of spying. Sarah Wykes of the organization Global Witness was jailed over the weekend. She had traveled to Cabinda on Friday to meet with local civic groups about Angola’s allocation of oil revenues in a region that supplies more than half of the country’s energy output. From London, Global Witness Campaign Director Gavin Hayman says that his group’s campaign to raise the accountability and transparency of Luanda’s revenue sharing will continue, and what he calls the ridiculous charges against Dr. Wykes would likely be dropped as well.

“I suspect that we will probably want to get Sarah home as soon as possible. We want to see her back safe and sound. But in terms of our work on revenue transparency, of course it will go on. If anything, the Angola government brought more attention to this issue than they could possibly have imagined when they decided to detain her this week,” he said.

In the past, Angola has raised and subsequently dismissed subversive charges against other travelers to Cabinda. Hayman points out that visitors to the prized oil-producing region, which is separated from the rest of Angola by a strip of land belonging to the adjacent Democratic Republic of Congo, are treated with caution and suspicion, but the government has had to drop the unsubstantiated charges. He says Global Witness hopes attorneys for Sarah Wykes will reach a similar outcome in her court case.

“The government hasn’t specified clearly yet what charges she’s facing or indeed what the bail conditions are, which obviously makes us nervous. But effectively, there’s no reason why Sarah couldn’t be released today. All it takes is the Attorney General, and that gives the judge the right to release her,” said Hayman.

Global Witness has issued several reports on Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos’ government’s method of accounting for its oil profits. Hayman explains why its acclaimed researcher, Dr. Wykes, was visiting Cabinda this week.

“She was in Cabinda in order to meet with civil society and the government to hear about the progress that the government has been alleging it has been making, tackling corruption and improving transparency of the oil revenues. And so suddenly, she’s arrested out of the blue, and she turns up in Cabinda to speak to people. She was also going to speak to the government and Cabindan authorities to hear their side of the story, and crazily, this is their reaction. She never even got that far,” he said.

As for the espionage charges, Hayman claims the pretext is hard to understand.

“In terms of the charges of spying, it was a very soft visit. As soon as we find out what is going on, we hear from our civil society contacts on the ground and discuss what progress was made, so it’s madness to accuse her of spying,” he said.

The Global Witness executive also says he thinks Angolan authorities are looking for a way to cover up their own misdeeds.

“The Angolan government has always been opaque about its income from oil, and to put that into context of what that opacity has meant has been huge amounts of missing money from the Angolan exchequer. Research and also figures provided by the IMF suggest that in the late 1990’s and early 2000, something like one in every four dollars from the oil sector isn’t accounted for in the Angolan state treasury. Meanwhile, something like one in four children have died around the age of five from preventable diseases. So effectively, we’re talking about several billion dollars over those years has gone missing. We’ve previously published information that seems to suggest it’s being held in offshore bank accounts and benefited an elite circle of people around the Presidency,” he said.

Angolans observe the Carnival holiday on February 19 this year, and Dr. Wykes’ attorneys are not yet certain if this could further delay her release.