Hidden debts: Mozambique wins one round in London Court - AIM
The crisis of Mozambique’s “hidden debts” arose because “the enemy captured our security and we are suffering from this”, declared former Interior Minister Alberto Mondlane on Thursday.
Speaking at the Maputo City Court, as a witness in the trial of 19 people accused of financial crimes in connection with the debts incurred in 2013 and 2014 by the three fraudulent companies Proindicus, Ematum (Mozambique Tuna Company) and MAM (Mozambique Asset Management), Mondlane said that his Ministry was kept in the dark about most of the debts.
He made clear the “the enemy” he had in mind was the Abu Dhabi based group Privinvest, and its senior officials such as Iskandar Safa and Jean Boustani.
Mondlane recalled that the idea of setting up a company that would deal with threats to maritime security (such as piracy and illegal fishing) was first raised in a phone call he received in 2012 from Gregorio Leao, the then general director of the State Security and Intelligence Service (SISE).
The whole idea came from SISE, he said, notably from Leao and from the then head of Economic Intelligence, Antonio Carlos do Rosario, both of whom are among the accused in the current trial. Even the name of the proposed company, Proindicus, came from SISE, he said, and in all the meetings he attended, it was SISE that made the presentations.
It was SISE that brought the matter to the Joint Command of the Defence and Security Forces, chaired by the then President, Armando Guebuza, and to the Operational Command, headed by the then Defence Minister (and current President) Filipe Nyusi.
At this stage, Mondlane said, there was no mention of any other companies. “At no time did the Joint Command discuss Ematum or MAM”, he insisted.
Mondlane thus frontally contradicted the story told by Rosario, according to which Proindicus, Ematum and MAM were all conceived as parts of an integrated package deal to protect the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
Mondlane could not understand the claim that Ematum and MAM had hidden security functions – he saw nothing in either company to support this.
Only later did he come to understand that Privinvest and its leaders were involved in the scheme. Privinvest became the sole contractor for the three companies, and Boustani worked with three corrupt bankers from Credit Suisse to ensure that loans were granted to the companies, despite the fact that they were run by the security service and none of them had any track record.
The loan money was sent, not to the Mozambican companies, but to Privinvest, which then sent grossly overpriced fishing vessels, radar stations and other assets to Mozambique. The independent audit of the three companies in early 2017 showed that Privinvest had over-invoiced them to the tune of 714 million dollars.
Mondlane said that matters of financing and procurement were never discussed in either the Joint Command or the Operational Command. Nobody ever asked the Interior Ministry what assets should be purchased.
He accused the SISE management of the time of concealing information. “At the Joint Command, we never spoke about Privinvest, Jean Boustani, Iskandar Safa, or running up the debts”, declared Mondlane.
“I never imagined that a Jean Boustani could come here and distribute money”, he added. The money in question are the bribes paid by Privinvest to Mozambican officials, including Gregorio Leao and Antonio do Rosario.
Mondlane recalled that he had once worked with Leao and Rosario, and had trusted them. “I never imagined that what I am seeing in this trial could be their work”, he said.
“We didn’t talk about debts in the Joint Command. We didn’t talk about Privinvest”, he added. “Our state security was unable to prevent this from happening”.
“I feel betrayed”, said Mondlane. The unfolding scandal of the hidden debts “is not what we discussed at the Joint Command or the Operational Command. SISE should have protected us, instead of hiding information from us”.
Mondlane categorically denied any knowledge of the 500 million dollars missing from the Ematum loan of 850 million dollars.
The independent auditors could find no explanation for the missing 500 million. The explanation given at the time was that this money had been syphoned off for defence and security purposes. To bring the Ematum loan to supposedly manageable levels, the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, shifted 500 million dollars to defence, leaving Ematum only 350 million to repay.
But this was just an accounting trick. The Defence Ministry has repeatedly said it received nothing from the Ematum loan, and Mondlane declared the same was true of the Interior Ministry.
“The Ministry received nothing, no money and no assets, and I don’t know anything about these transactions”, he said.
If this money left the banks (Credit Suisse and VTB of Russia), but no trace of it can be found in Mozambique, the sole logical conclusion is that Privinvest is still holding onto it.