Mozambican court on Wednesday sentenced two former intelligence bosses and the son of a former president to 12 years each for their involvement in a corruption scandal in which the government tried to hide huge debts, causing financial chaos.
Former head of security and intelligence Gregorio Leao; head of the economic intelligence department, António do Rosario; and ex-president Armando Guebuza’s son, Ndambi Guebuza, were among 19 defendants charged in the country’s largest bribery scandal.
Eight defendants were acquitted, while the rest received sentences ranging from 10 to 12 years in sentences that took the judge a week to deliver.
“The crimes committed have had consequences that will last for generations,” said Judge Efigenio Baptista, addressing a crowded courtroom inside a high-security prison in the capital Maputo.
The scandal arose after state-owned companies in the impoverished country illegally borrowed $2 billion (€1.9 billion) from international banks in 2013 and 2014 to buy tuna fishing fleets and surveillance vessels.
The government masked loans from parliament and the public.
When “hidden debt” finally came to light in 2016, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other donors withdrew their financial support, triggering a default on sovereign debt and a collapse of the currency.
An independent review showed that $500 million worth of loans had been redirected. Money remains unaccounted for.
– Desire for luxury –
In handing down the verdicts, Baptista said the scam “aggravated the impoverishment of thousands of Mozambicans”.
“The country has become famous for the worst reasons,” he said. “As the highest officials of the state, they were to be (his) guardians.”
Leão and do Rosario were found guilty of embezzlement and abuse of power, while Guebuza was convicted of, among other things, embezzlement, money laundering and involvement in criminal gangs.
Former President Guebuza, who was in power when the loans were struck, testified at the trial but was not seen in court on Wednesday.
His son, dressed in a black sweater over a prisoner’s orange overalls, stood up as the judge handed down the verdict.
During the trial, Baptista claimed that Ndambi Gebuza acted deliberately “to influence his father” and get government approval for the purchase of the ships.
He took a $33 million bribe that went to satisfy his “passion for luxury,” the judge said, listing some of the assets the former president’s son had purchased with the money.
Among them were luxury cars and a 10 million rand ($590,000) mansion in neighboring South Africa.
In addition to being sentenced to prison, the younger Guebuza was sentenced to pay a fine of 162,000 metiqai ($2,500).
Former presidential adviser Renato Mathuss was also sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Mozambique economic crisis
The trial began in August last year and lasted until March. It was broadcast live by local TV channels and radio stations.
Dozens of people, including anti-corruption activists and civil society activists, sat in the courtroom, a makeshift space set up in a white tent to house the defendants, their lawyers and other parties.
The debt scandal has exposed corruption on a global scale and sparked lawsuits on three continents. Swiss bank Credit Suisse was fined $475 million last year for its involvement in lending.
Former finance minister Manuel Chang, who signed the loans, has been in South African custody since 2018 pending extradition to the US for allegedly using the US financial system to carry out a fraudulent scheme.
When the loans were taken, Mozambique’s star was rising after two decades of democratic and market reforms and the discovery of vast gas reserves off the coast of the Indian Ocean.
But the scandal, which involved money equivalent to about 12 percent of the gross domestic product of one of the world’s poorest countries, has sent the country into the worst economic crisis in its history.
In March, the IMF provided Mozambique with a $456 million loan, the first such aid since the scandal erupted.
The funds are intended to support economic recovery and politics reduce the public debt.