British Justice Robin Knowles has stopped short of accusing Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi of obstructing justice in the case management sessions of a London High Court lawsuit pitting Mozambique against Credit Suisse and others over the $2.2 billion “hidden debts” scandal.
The term “hidden debts” refers to loans worth $2.2 billion obtained 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.
Mozambique’s Attorney-General’s Office (PGR) sued the companies in the London High Court on the grounds that the loans guarantees were null and void and demanded compensation to be paid to Mozambique.
However, Mozambique has not been forthcoming in disclosing relevant documents from various state entities, leading Judge Knowles to warn in that “if I need to exercise my powers for strike-out to ensure compliance with the Republic’s (of Mozambique) duties and the obligations of this litigation.”
In his latest court brief dated 3 March 2023, Judge Knowles argues that he could not say whether Nyusi “is set on helping these proceedings in the interests of the Republic and its people, or hindering them in self-interest,” adding that to date President Nyusi “has not done what he could to respond in relation to his personal involvement as a party and in relation to allegations made against him personally.”
Furthermore, Nyusi has also “not assisted in his position at the helm of relevant State entities when it comes to access to documentation for the purpose of the Republic’s duties of disclosure,” said Judge Knowles.
According to the judge, Mozambique is not “complying with its disclosure duties, specifically in relation to documents held at the Office of the President, SISE and the Council of State.“
Unlike the “hidden debts” case in Maputo, in which Nyusi hardly featured at all, he is party to the litigation case in the London case. The judge pointed out that “It may be that it is his individual stance that puts the Republic’s position at risk.“
However, this did not mean that Mozambique should be remiss in its obligations to provide the relevant documents “even where its President refuses to assist for what may be self-interested reasons.“
Judge Knowles said that it was not the end of the road, however. Mozambique still could explain its difficulties to the court. Indeed, the judge offered a reprieve to Mozambique by saying that he would not at this stage “make an order to strike out all or part of the Republic’s statements of case.” But he promised that continue reviewing the issue throughout until the end of the trial.
Consequently, the judge gave Mozambique time to procure the relevant documents from all the entities relevant to the case, including the navy, as well as undertaking a full forensic investigation of former Finance Minister, Manuel Chang’s institutional email account to identify whether any deleted material could be retrieved or reconstructed – Mozambique claims that Chang’s files have been deleted.
Chang is subject to two competing extradition requests from the United States and Mozambique, and has been held in a South African prison, under a United States warrant, since his arrest at the OR Tambo Airport in December 2018 en route to Dubai.
Judge Knowles also requested Peters & Peters to review the electronic documents in the PGR possession in order to identify any relevand disclosable documents, as well as the Main Criminal File or the Copy File from the criminal trial in Maputo.
Meanwhile, while he insisted that his intentions were to be preside over a fair trial, Judge Knowles proposed a July case management conference to resolve any pending issues before the trial slated for October 2013, which is expected to last 12 weeks.
It would not be the first time that President Nyusi has run interference with the investigations into the $2.2 billion “hidden debts” scandal.
Buchili herself was forced to write a letter to the Swedish embassy in Maputo, after the Kroll auditing team had hit a brick wall when requesting information from the Office of the Presidency while conducting a forensic audit.
At the time, Buchili diplomatically said that she had met with difficulties, key of which being the involvement of Nyusi “being one of the designers and involved in the whole process” as some key detainees stated during the auditions in the B.O trial over the scandal.
Perhaps Buchili was referring to the laconic statement Nyusi had made when interviewed by deputy-Attorney-General Alberto Paulo in August 2018. Acting like Pontius Pilate, Nyusi had said that he had not taken part in any meeting which had authorised ProIndicus to contract loans guaranteed by the state.
As for MAM and EMATUM, Nyusi denied having any knowledge related to the two companies, adding that he had found out about them when the scandal broke out in the media.
Either Nyusi was economical with words or he wants the world to believe that he was ineffectual as the country’s Defence Minister.
Meanwhile, being the President has meant that he has had a wall of protection in Mozambique, but that seems not to be the case in London.
Some analysts believe that Nyusi is trying to put himself out of a hideous process that embroiled the country’s security cluster: from defence to police, including the secret services with former director, Gregorio Leão (codename Barros), and his closest aid, António Carlos do Rosário, ending up being convicted, sentenced and jailed pending appeal. And strangely no one from the defence sector was ever charged or accused.
Perhaps the London trial might leave the door wide open for Mozambique to know what happened to the $500 million that vanished from the records, apparently given to Ministry of Defence when Nyusi was its minister at the time.
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