* Ruling party dismisses reports of corruption
* Accuses foreign and local groups of smear campaign
* Says campaign meant to weaken MPLA ahead of elections
By Henrique Almeida
LUANDA, Sept 6 (Reuters) - Angola’s ruling MPLA party brushed aside reports of corruption involving senior government officials earlier this year as a smear campaign aimed at hurting the party ahead of general elections in 2012.
The party’s powerful Political Bureau said in a statement on Monday the campaign was spearheaded by Angolan nationals hired by local and foreign organisations to “tarnish everything the executive power does” ahead of the vote.
“Their goal is to defeat the MPLA and hand over power to those that have always served their interests,” the MPLA said in a statement without specifying any names.
The statement comes after an Angolan journalist and rights activist accused President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and his inner circle of taking control of the economy by grabbing stakes in firms ranging from the oil to the banking sectors.
In his report, “The Angolan Presidency -- The Epicentre of Corruption,” Rafael Marques points the finger at deals led by Minister of State Manuel Vieira Dias Junior and Manuel Vicente, chief executive of state-run oil firm Sonangol.
Both officials have repeatedly denied the report’s allegations, which were published on Marques’ anti-corruption website www.makaangola.com.
“It is complete rubbish,” Vieira Dias Junior recently told Reuters.
But Marques’ report was widely cited in the foreign media after he gave an hour-long interview with Portuguese broadcaster SIC Noticias in June. Former colonial ruler Portugal is one of Angola’s biggest trading partners.
Analysts say such accusations could shake confidence in an oil producing nation that is just beginning to recover from a slump in crude prices last year.
It could also undermine dos Santos’ recent calls for zero tolerance of corruption, calls which critics say ring hollow as the government has for decades been accused of siphoning off and squandering the country’s vast oil wealth.
The MPLA said it would continue to work to improve the lives of ordinary Angolans, most of whom live in dire poverty, regardless of the smear campaign.
“Nothing, absolutely nothing will force the MPLA to turn its back on its ideals,” it said in the statement.
“The conviction that it needs to act as soon as possible to consolidate a democratic society, free of misery and in which the well-being is a fact and development an achieved reality.”
Angola was ranked in the bottom 19 of 180 countries in a Transparency International corruption study last year.
The MPLA, in power since Angola’s 1975 independence from Portugal, won 82 percent of the vote in the nation’s 2008 elections -- the first since the end of Angola’s three-decade long civil war in 2002.
Reporting by Henrique Almeida; Editing by Ed Stodddard and Giles Elgood