Hidden debts: Scheme was designed by Privinvest

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Hidden debts: Scheme was designed by Privinvest – AIM report
Hidden debts: Scheme was designed by Privinvest – AIM report

Africa-PressMozambique. The coastal and maritime protection project which led to the fraudulent companies that are at the heart of the scandal of Mozambique’s “hidden debts”, was designed, not by any Mozambican organization, but by the Abu Dhabi based group, Privinvest.

That much is clear in a letter from the founder of Privinvest, Iskander Safa, sent to the then President of Mozambique, Armando Guebuza, on 3 December 2012.

One of the 19 people currently on trial before the Maputo City Court in connection with the hidden debts, Antonio Carlos do Rosario, the former head of economic intelligence in the Mozambican Security and Intelligence Service (SISE), had repeatedly insisted that the project to protect the Mozambican Exclusive Economic Zone was home-grown and he had been appointed its coordinator. Privinvest entered simply as the contractor.

When, on Friday morning, prosecutor Sheila Marrengula asked Rosario who had suggested that the bank Credit Suisse should finance the project, he claimed this was the proposal that the then Defence Minister (and now President) Filipe Nyusi, had made to Finance Minister Manuel Chang.

At this point Marrengula read out the letter from Safa to Guebuza, in which Safa thanked the Mozambican authorities “for accepting our project proposal”, and said financing for the project had already been discussed with Credit Suisse, which had agreed in September 2012. Safa hoped this would be the start of a strong partnership between Mozambique and Privinvest Shipbuilding.

In this letter, Privinvest claimed paternity of the scheme that Rosario said he was coordinating, and which became the first of the fraudulent companies, Proindicus, and was also responsible for choosing the bank that would finance it.

Faced with Safa’s letter, Rosario said he had never seen it before and, just as with previous inconvenient pieces of evidence, he suggested it was a forgery.

The letter from Nyusi to Chang certainly exists, but is dated 14 January 2013, and seems to be following up Safa’s correspondence of the previous year.

Rosario asked how the prosecution had obtained the Safa letter, and Marrengula said one of the co-defendants, Teofilo Nhangumele, had provided it along with several other documents related to Proindicus.

This was another problem for Rosario, since he had spent much of his earlier testimony denying any ties with Nhangumele, or with Nhangumele’s associates, even though one of them, Cipriano Mutota, was a high ranking SISE officer (the head of the SISE studies office). He continued to insist that Nhangumele had nothing to do with the project he was coordinating, even though they had both visited Privinvest shipyards in Germany and Abu Dhabi at the same time (in December 2011 and January 2012).

“You say you didn’t travel wth Nhangumele, and you didn’t work with Nhangumele, but he has all the Proindicus documents”, exclaimed judge Efigenio Baptista.

Nhangumele claimed to be a bridge between Privinvest and the Mozambican side of the scheme, but Rosario brushed this aside with the words “I have nothing to say”.

It became even more difficult to deny Nhangumele’s ties with Proindicus when Marrengula pointed to an exchange of correspondence in 2013 between Nhangumele and Henriques Matlaba, the first chairperson of Proindicus (before Rosario himself took on that post).

Nhangumele handed over to Matlaba a series of Proindicus documents, including a cash flow model, and a projections of costs for the first two years to the company. He said he had worked on the project since late 2011, and now expected to be paid. He asked Matlaba for 500,000 US dollars (forgetting to mention that he had already received 8.5 million dollars from senior Privinvest official Jean Boustani).

Matlaba replied that a Proindicus extraordinary general meeting had decided the company was not responsible for paying him, but thanked Nhangumele for all the documents. Asked how to explain this correspondence, Rosario replied “I wasn’t the chairperson then, and I don’t remember the discussion at the General Meeting”.

Asked how his predecessor as chairperson could accept documents from a man whom he claimed played no part in the project, Rosario insisted “in the team I was leading, Teofilo Nhangumele had no role”.

Asked who had invented the name “Proindicus”, Rosario said he did not know. Under Mozambican company law, before a company can be registered, its name must be reserved (to avoid two or more companies operating with the same name).

So who deposited the name “Proindicus” with the Registry Office? Rosario was shown the official document, and was asked to read out the name of the person who reserved the name. He refused, so Baptista read it out. This official registration document showed that it was Teofilo Nhangumele who reserved the name Proindicus.

The reason all this could be important is that the prosecution has to show links between the accused in order to prove one of the main charges against most of them, which is that of membership of a criminal association.

Rosario, who had been behaving politely during the morning, in the afternoon reverted to insults against the Attorney-General’s Office (PGR). He said “when I was called to the PGR, I thought I was going to war with people who were harbouring spies in the country”.

This was another reference to the auditors from the company Kroll, which the PGR had hired to investigate Proindicus, and the other two fraudulent companies, Ematum (Mozambique Tuna Company) and MAM (Mozambique Asset Management). Rosario (who in 2017 had thrown the auditors out of hs office) has repeatedly denounced Kroll, without a shred of evidence, as a nest of western spies.

Baptista was tired of hearing allegations that top prosecutors were in league with spies. “If you say that once more, this interrogation is over”, he told Rosario. “You are a very intelligent man and you know full well the consequences of your words”.

That was enough to calm Rosario down for the rest of the session.

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