At the height of the $2.2 billion ‘hidden debts’ scandal, Former Mozambican President Armando Guebuza told the media that “there is a lot of dust. Some of it rises spontaneously, and some that is provoked.”
Guebuza added that he believed that the dust was provoked “for ulterior motives but I believe that justice will be done.”
He was referring to the fact that his son Armando Ndambi Guebuza had just been detained in his role in the scandal after having received $33 million in kickbacks, and he himself was being thrown under the bus by his successor, President Filipe Nyusi, who claimed to have had no role in the contracting of the loans from the banks Credit Suisse and VTB Russia by three Mozambican companies, ProIndicus, EMATUM (Mozambique Tuna Company) and MAM (Mozambique Asset Management), with the sole contractor and supplier, the Abu Dhabi-based group Privinvest, selling them fishing boats, radar stations and other assets at exceedingly inflated prices, between 2013 and 2014.
The three companies were said to be linked to the security cluster, and indeed the partners in ProIndicus were companies set by the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of the Interior and the State Information and Security Service (SISE) – at the time Mozambique obtained the loans, Nyusi was the country’s defence minister.
Eventually, Guebuza’s son and 11 other defendants were handed sentences to between 10 to 12 years imprisonment. Guebuza himself made an appearance in court as a witness.
Meanwhile, Mozambique’s Attorney-General’s Office (PGR) spent close to $5 million in an inglorious effort to have former Finance Minister Manuel Chang extradited from South Africa to Maputo. Chang was detained on 29 December 2018, at the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, en route to Dubai.
He languished in a South African prison at the request of the United States for his involvement in the scandal. After a lengthy extradition battle pitting Mozambique and the US, on 25 May 2023, the Constitutional Court of South Africa finally ruled in favour of the US.
The extradition battle not only involved Mozambique and the US, but others also got involved, namely the South African government through the Justice Ministry and the Mozambican Forum for Budget Monitoring (FMO), which from the start fought to see Chang extradited to the US owing to the fact that it did not believe the Mozambican justice would hold a fair trial which would ultimately inform the country about what had really happened and who had benefitted from the scandal.
Simultaneously, the Mozambican government sued the bank Credit Suisse and others at the London High Court for their alleged role in defrauding the Mozambican state. Unfortunately for Mozambique, the London High Court requires a disclosure process obliging the litigants to provide all relevant documents before a trial can begin.
But Mozambique has been anything but cooperative in the disclosure process, with Justice Robin Knowles, the judge handling the case, threatening to strike out the case for failure to disclose the said documents held at the Office of the President, SISE, Ministry of Defence, including the Council of State.
Judge Knowles is also on the record in making Nyusi part of the case and has told his lawyers that he should be ready to appear in court should he deem it necessary.
Observers say that as things stand the President is a very nervous person; nobody had advised him that the litigation would involve disclosure of all relevant documents.
Furthermore, Nyusi never for a second thought that there would a chance, whoever slim, that he could be asked to appear in court in his role as former Defence Minister.
This explains why he has instructed his lawyers in London to argue for immunity from being made a party to the case pitting Mozambique against Credit Suisse and others.
A source told Mozambique Insights that Defence Minister Nyusi is hiding under the shadow of President Nyusi, that is, he thinks that he should not appear in court as president – someone should tell him that Judge Knowles is after the Minister of Defence and there’s no need for the President to be nervous, hide or seek any immunity.
Observers also point to the fact that those from the various state institutions who had an involvement in the scandal had their day in court, starting from Guebuza, the former Minister of the Interior, Alberto Mondlane, then central bank governor, Ernesto Gove, among others. Strangely, the then Defence Minister never set foot in court.
When defence lawyers asked the court to summon Nyusi as a witness, the case judge, Efigénio Baptista, said visibly nervous that the President’s accounts had been investigated and “no money from Privinvest was found.”
Judge Baptista took Nyusi’s laconic statement before the investigation attorney at face value to ensure that Mozambicans never heard the President explain himself, as Mondlane did when summoned to court.
That is why observers said at the time that the trial had not been fair as not everyone who had a case to answer for appeared in court.
Some Mozambicans are hoping that Judge Knowles does not grant him immunity from being made part of the case, which would perhaps help settling the dust Guebuza talked about.
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