A court in Mozambique has begun handing down verdicts in the country’s biggest corruption scandal in which the government unleashed a financial earthquake by trying to conceal 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 related to a $2bn “hidden debt” scandal that crashed the nation’s economy.
Judge Efigenio Baptista of the Maputo City Court said on Wednesday that reading the 1,388 page judgement was likely to take five days. The trial, which started in August last year, ran until March.
All the accused, who were present in court on Wednesday, have denied any wrongdoing.
The scandal arose after state-owned companies in the impoverished country illicitly borrowed $2bn in 2013 and 2014 from international banks to buy a tuna-fishing 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, triggering a sovereign debt default and currency collapse.
An independent audit found $500m of the loans had been diverted. The money remains unaccounted for.
Former Finance Minister, Manuel Chang – who signed off the loans – has been held in South Africa since 2018, pending 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 contracted, testified at the trial. He was not charged himself, but his eldest son, Ndambi, was in the dock along with the 18 other defendants.
About 100 people sat in the special courtroom set up in a white marquee on the grounds of a high-security jail in Maputo to accommodate the large number of defendants, their lawyers and other parties, the AFP news agency reported.
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Local civil society organisations welcomed the trial.
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES