ISSN 2330-717X

Former Mozambican President Guebuza Goes To Court Over ‘Hidden Debts’ Scandal – OpEd

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After intense criticisms, the former Mozambican president Armando Guebuza has finally accepted to testify as a witness in the controversial judicial trial popularly referred to as “Hidden Debts” scandal involving billions of dollars in Mozambique.

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The financial scandal happened in 2013 during the state administration of Armando Guebuza, and his soft attitude to financial transparency and adamant refusal to testify earlier was considered as a display of highest disregard to the state judiciary.According to various media reports, on February 17, authorized by the Council of State and mandated by law the former Mozambican president Armando Guebuza would become the first former head of state in Mozambique’s history to appear in court to give testimony.

Public prosecutors have called on Guebuza to testify because as president and was also head of government that issued guarantees that allowed public enterprises Empresa Moçambicana de Atum (Ematum), Proíndicus and Mozambique Asset Management (MAM) to borrow US$2.7 billion (€2.3 million) from foreign banks without informing parliament or existing creditors. 

The former head of state has already been questioned by a deputy attorney general, in the pre-trial phase of the case, and by a parliamentary committee of enquiry, in 2016. Although the findings of the parliamentary committee of enquiry were not made public or debated in a full session, part of Guebuza’s statements were published by some media outlets, based on information passed on by members of parliament who spoke under anonymity. 

Among these, Guebuza’s statement to the committee that he would do “everything again” in the process that led to the hidden debts, if the circumstances that dictated the need for the loans were repeated, was widely commented upon in public opinion. 

The “Hidden Debts” scandal has led to the arrest and detention of the former Finance Minister Manuel Chang. He was arrested while transiting through Oliver Tambo International Airport (29 December 2018) on an arrest warrant sought by the United States who had charged him with fraud and corruption, and he has since been held in the neighboring South Africa.

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According to reports, many US investors had lost money in what was described as a US$2 billion loan scam involving two banks, the Credit Suisse and the Russian VTB bank. The secrecy and corruption surrounding the loans dealt devastating blows to Mozambique’s credibility and reputation. It was the Wall Street Journal first revealed the hidden debt in April 2016.

Chang faces charges of fraud and corruption for allegedly receiving millions of dollars in bribes to sign off on about US$2.2 billion in loans from Credit Suisse and the Russian VTB bank to Mozambique government agencies to buy fishing trawlers and military patrol vessels in 2013 and 2014. It involved three security-linked Mozambican companies, Proindicus, Ematum (Mozambique Tuna Company) and MAM (Mozambique Asset Management).

The loans were only possible because of guarantees issued illegally by the government of the time under the then president Armando Guebuza. The loans and their guarantees violated the 2013 and 2014 budget laws, and the Mozambican Constitution.The prosecution targeted Armando Ndambi Guebuza, the accused and oldest son of Armando Guebuza.

According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, Armando Ndambi Guebuza was the one who received the biggest share of the money embezzled from the loans mobilized with State guarantees, having pocketed US$33 million (equivalent €28 million). With the money, the former President’s eldest son bought top-of-the-range cars, some of which he gave to friends, real estate inside and outside the country and paid for leisure trips. Armando Ndambi Guebuza used his influence with his father to make the scheme possible and to take advantage of his wealth for himself and his associates. 

Last October, Russia’s VTB Capital and Credit Suisse agreed to pay fines to the United States and British authorities for their role in this business fraud. According to reports, after the final ruling on the case the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) ordered that Credit Suisse to pay almost US$475 million to the United States and British authorities “for fraudulently misleading investors and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Russia’s VTB Capital, currently under sanctions, was also ordered to pay US$4 million penalty. 

The Maputo City Judicial Court continues hearing and receiving reports from defendants and witnesses, according media reports. These include Guebuza’s son Armando Ndambi Guebuza, and ex-president Guebuza’s former private secretary Inês Moiane and political adviser Renato Matusse as well as former director-general of the State Information and Security Service (SISE), Gregório Leão, and former director of economic intelligence of the institution António Carlos do Rosário.

Mozambican President, Filipe Nyusi; the Prime Minister, Carlos Agostinho do Rosário; the Mozambican Justice Minister, Helena Kida; and Agriculture Minister, Celso Correia were listed to give evidence at the court in connection with the financial scandal.

President Filipe Nyusi has consistently promised to stamp out graft and corruption in the country, but corruption still engulfs the institutions and its administrators.Mozambique is a member of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).

Mozambique is a country located in Southeast Africa bordered by the Indian Ocean to the east, Tanzania to the north, Malawi and Zambia to the northwest, Zimbabwe to the west, and Eswatini (Swaziland) and South Africa to the southwest. 

Kester Kenn Klomegah

Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and a policy consultant on African affairs in the Russian Federation and Eurasian Union. He has won media awards for highlighting economic diplomacy in the region with Africa. Currently, Klomegah is a Special Representative for Africa on the Board of the Russian Trade and Economic Development Council. He enjoys travelling and visiting historical places in Eastern and Central Europe. Klomegah is a frequent and passionate contributor to Eurasia Review.

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