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Mozambique: all you need to know about the “hidden debt” trial

Former Mozambican finance minister Manuel Chang in South Africa.

The trial of the "hidden debt" in Mozambique began on Monday. A gigantic trial for corruption, involving 19 senior officials of the State and several banks. Back to a state scandal.

Under a tent specially set up in Machava, a prison in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, opened the first hearing of the "hidden debt" trial. An embarrassing trial for the Mozambican state, which begins as the country faces one of the most serious economic crises in its history.

Among the 19 defendants prosecuted for embezzlement, we find Ndambi Guebuza, son of former President Armando Guebuza, but also the former head of national security (SISE), Gregorio Leao, as well as the former Minister of Finance Manuel Chang. The latter, absent at the first hearing, will be extradited by South Africa very soon, South African authorities announced on Monday. It was there that he was arrested in 2018.

The term “hidden debt” refers to loans granted in Mozambique in 2013 and 2014 by banks Credit Suisse and Vnechtorgbank (VTB), a Russian bank. In all, 1,76 billion euros were loaned to finance maritime surveillance and several shipyards. The loan funds, guaranteed by Manuel Chang on behalf of the Mozambican state, have since been squandered.

The loan request was made as tensions in the Gulf of Aden threatened to spread south. India, China, Russia and Western countries relied heavily on the security of the Mozambique Channel for shipping to the Gulf of Guinea.

The case that destroyed the Metical

Among the beneficiaries of the sum collected, three Mozambican companies: ProIndicus, Mozambique Tuna Company (MTC) and Mozambique Asset Management (MAM). Dissolved since, these state enterprises had the same general manager: Antonio Carlos do Rosario. The latter was an officer of the Serviço de Informaçao e Segurança do Estado (SISE), the Mozambican secret service. He is accused of having facilitated the embezzlement of funds towards the private accounts of several defendants.

Three officials of the Credit Suisse bank admitted to accepting bribes. A facilitator from the Abu Dhabi-based shipbuilding group Privinvest, the French-Lebanese Jean Boustani, had been acquitted in the United States. Boustani, Chang and do Rosario are said to have influenced several Mozambican officials to issue guarantees for these loans.

However, these guarantees were in reality contrary to the finance laws of 2013 and 2014, as well as to the Mozambican Constitution. The Constitutional Council of Mozambique ruled that these guarantees illegal. A legal battle then began: the IMF and other international financial bodies affirmed, despite this judgment of the Court, that Mozambique had defaulted on the payment of its debt. The national currency, the Metical, then experienced an inexorable fall since 2016.

South Africa responds favorably to Mozambique

If we are to believe the journalistic investigations which had revealed this case and at the origin of the trial, almost all of the funds were embezzled. At least 150 million euros were reportedly paid by Privinvest in bribes. Although he is not involved in the case, Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi was implicated by testimony in the Boustani affair in the United States.

The real surprise of Monday is not the hearing, which took place behind closed doors, but rather South Africa's decision to extradite Manuel Chang, whose signature is on all the physical evidence. collected by investigators. Mozambique is calling for Chang's extradition, but so is the United States. South Africa has therefore decided to choose Mozambique rather than the USA.

An important decision for Mozambique, which demonstrates African solidarity around a file that concerns a country currently affected by terrorism and in the sights of the IMF.

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