‘Hidden debts’: Mozambique spent €6 million in documentation for London trial- lawyers

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‘Hidden debts’: Mozambique spent €6 million in documentation for London trial- lawyers
‘Hidden debts’: Mozambique spent €6 million in documentation for London trial- lawyers

Africa-Press – Mozambique. Mozambique has spent at least five million pounds sterling (€5.8 million) preparing documents for the ‘hidden debts’ court case underway in London, in the Commercial Court, a sub-division of the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court of Justice, the major civil court in England and Wales, it was revealed yesterday at the London Commercial Court, Lusa reports.

This amount [five million pounds] was advanced by law firm Peters & Peters, which said it had sent staff and equipment to Maputo to organise the documents needed for the UK trial, which is scheduled to start in October, 2023.

“The Republic [of Mozambique] has already spent around five million pounds in order to meet its disclosure of documents obligations. Given that the Republic is the third poorest nation in the world, this is a huge sum,” Sarah Gabriel, a partner specialising in commercial litigation at Peters & Peters, admitted in a statement last week.

The disclosure and sharing of documentary evidence is mandatory and an essential step in British proceedings, and involves the parties to a case making documents relevant to the matter available to each other, so that each can prepare its case.

In a preliminary hearing on Tuesday, the lawyer representing Mozambique in the judicial proceedings initiated by the Attorney General’s Office (PGR), Jonathan Adkin, reiterated the difficulty, previously revealed in April, in meeting the end-of-September deadline and requested it be extended until December 23 due to the “dimension and challenges of the task”.

Faced with the objections of other parties in the process, namely the bank Credit Suisse and the naval group Privinvest, judge Robin Knowles adopted the end of November as a compromise extension for the disclosure of documentary evidence.

Mr Justice Robin Knowles however kept October, 2023, as the date for the beginning of the London trial, as well as the dates of the other stages of the process, namely the delivery of witness and expert statements by the end of February, 2023, and the end of May, 2023, respectively.

As a condition for granting the extension, the judge laid down that the parties must make a rolling disclosure of documents as they become available, facilitating the work of the others involved, and threatened “sanctions and consequences” for any failure to comply with the deadline.

With Russia’s VTB bank again absent due to the sanctions it is subject to due to the war in Ukraine, Credit Suisse has expressed concerns about the way in which the choice of documents to be released is being made.

Lawyer Andrew Hunter [represents Credit Suisse] questioned the exclusion of British lawyers from the process of selecting documents for disclosure. “What is apparent is that [the solicitors / lawyers at ]Peters & Peters have not been allowed to play their role, they are only doing it on a supervisory basis,” he said.

Privinvest claimed that the PGR’s own British lawyers are encountering resistance within the Mozambican government in accessing documentation and equipment, which is subject to “hierarchical” authorizations.

Prinvinvest’s lawyer, Duncan Matthews, also raised the issue of communications by members of the Mozambican government and other institutions having been made on private devices and private electronic addresses, whose content is not expected to be made available.

Mozambique, Mathews said, should “allow British lawyers to verify the integrity of the disclosure process” and have access to electronic equipment, including private equipment, of the departments and persons concerned.

A new preliminary hearing to discuss issues such as the state secrecy with which some documents can be classified is scheduled for July 29.

Initiated by the PGR on behalf of the Republic of Mozambique in 2019, the case in the British court seeks to cancel the US$622 million debt of state company ProIndicus to the bank Credit Suisse, and obtain compensation for all losses resulting from the so called ‘hidden debts’.

In Mozambique, there are 19 defendants accused by the Public Prosecutor’s Office of having set up a criminal association and dilapidating the Mozambican state in the amount of US$2.7 billion (€2.3 billion) raised from international banks through guarantees provided by the Government.

The debts were contracted between 2013 and 2014 by Mozambican state-owned companies Proindicus, Ematum and MAM for tuna fishing and maritime protection projects.

The funding was intended for the purchase of tuna fishing boats and for maritime safety equipment and services provided by Privinvest companies.

The loans were guaranteed by the Government without the knowledge of parliament or the Administrative Tribunal.

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