March 23, 2023

A court in Mozambique has begun to pass verdicts in the country’s biggest corruption scandal, in which the government caused a financial earthquake by hiding huge debts.

The 19 high-profile defendants, including former state security officials and the son of an ex-president, faced charges ranging from money laundering to bribery and blackmail in connection with a $2 billion “hidden debt” scandal that devastated the economy of the United States. country crashed.

Maputo City Court Judge Efigenio Baptista said Wednesday that reading the 1,388-page verdict would likely take five days. The trial, which started in August last year, ran until March.

All suspects, who were present in court on Wednesday, have denied any allegations.

The scandal arose after state-owned companies in the impoverished country illegally borrowed $2 billion from international banks in 2013 and 2014 to buy a tuna fleet and surveillance vessels. The government masked the loans from parliament and the public.

When the “hidden debt” finally surfaced in 2016, donors including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) cut off financial support, leading to a default of the national debt and a collapse of the currency.

An independent audit found that $500 million of the loans had been diverted. The money goes unnoticed.

Former Treasury Secretary Manuel Chang – who made the loans – has been detained in South Africa since 2018, awaiting extradition to the United States for allegedly using the US financial system to carry out the fraudulent scheme.

Former President Armando Guebuza, who was in office when the loans were made, testified at the trial. He himself was not charged, but his eldest son Ndambi was in the dock with the 18 other defendants.

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Corruption doesn’t pay

About 100 people were seated in the special courtroom, set up in a white marquee on the grounds of a maximum-security prison in Maputo to house the large number of defendants, their lawyers and other parties, the AFP news agency reported.

Local civil society organizations welcomed the process.

“I think it’s been a very important process for the public,” Denise Namburete, the founder of the nonprofit organization N’weti and a member of the Mozambique Budget Monitoring Forum, a coalition of civil society organizations, told Maputo’s Al Jazeera . “It was, of course, the first time the public … saw senior government officials charged and tried in court.”

“It sends the message that senior government officials can be held accountable. It also sends the message that corruption does not pay. And at the end of the day, I think it’s an opportunity for Mozambique to restore confidence in the judiciary,” she added.

Anti-corruption activists are also demanding harsh punishments.

“The conviction must be strong enough so that it is not overturned or significantly reduced in a second instance court,” Borges Nhamirre, a researcher with the anti-corruption nonprofit watchdog Public Integrity Center, told AFP. But Adriano Nuvunga, the head of a rights group called the Center for Democracy and Development, predicted the verdicts would be “politically manipulated”.

Namburete told Al Jazeera, “I think people understand that this is a political process,” adding: “Unfortunately, we only saw 19 defendants charged, but there were many more people involved in this case who were not charged and we probably won’t see justice done with regard to these people.

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