Maputo — Mozambique's former Minister of Justice and Constitutional and Religious Matters, Adurremane Lino de Almeida, went on trial in Maputo on Wednesday, and admitted that he had indeed used state money to pay for trips to Mecca.
The Central Office for the Fight against Corruption has charged Almeida with abuse of his office and making undue payments. He had visited Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, in 2015 with three people who had no contractual ties to the Mozambican state, and the entire 21 day visit had been paid for with state funds. The cost to the state was 1.78 million meticais (about 29,700 US dollars, at current exchange rates).
Almeida admitted the illegal expenditure, but used the disreputable defence of “I was only following orders”.
He said he had been instructed by President Filipe Nyusi to take a group to Mecca. He also intended to take advantage of the visit to contact the Saudi authorities to discuss the possibility of setting up a Saudi embassy in Maputo.
Almeida said that, at the end of the moslem fasting month of Ramadan, Nyusi had contacted him, saying that it was “normal for religious leaders to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, and that year it wouldn't be any different. He instructed me to select six people to travel with me, in the knowledge that they were travelling in the name of the President of the Republic. I said that the trip was not planned in the budget, but he told me he had set up the Ministry of Religious Matters to deal with these things”.
Almeida claimed he did not know how to select his travelling companions and so looked for support elsewhere. “I remitted the selection of the religious leaders to the head of the Frelimo parliamentary group (Margarida Talapa, who is a moslem). I sought advice from the Islamic community, and because the trip was not budgeted I asked for sponsorship”.
He claimed that “MBS” said he would guarantee one person, and the Afrin Hotel in Maputo would support the trip from Maputo to Mecca for two people. MBS is Mohammed Bachir Suleimane, a wealthy Mozambican businessman, accused by the United States authorities of being a major drug trafficker.
It is not yet clear whether any sponsorship at all was paid, for Almeida added “but the people came from Nampula (the northern province where Talapa comes from) and the Ministry had to cover the cost of their journeys”.
There is no written evidence that Nyusi gave instructions to the Minister. Almeida admitted that he had no written authorization from the President.”It was a verbal mandate”, he told judge Joao Guilherme. “Also I never expected to receive any instruction in writing from the President. It was a special mission that the President said was part of his election manifesto”.
But when the General Inspectorate of Finance (IGF) audited Almeida's Ministry, it noticed the missing money, and demanded that Almeida repay it. At this stage, Almeida raised the matter with the Minister in the President's Office, Adelaide Amurane, who contacted Finance Minister Adriano Maleiane.
According to Almeida, she wanted Maleiane simply to remove the point about the trip to Mecca from the audit report. The auditors refused this request - they wanted some written justification of the trip, before they would take it out of the report, and no such justification was forthcoming.
Almeida claimed that Attorney-General Beatriz Buchili then spoke to Nyusi about the matter, and the President told her not to worry about “matters in the press” (since some of the private media had begun to write about the Mecca trip). Nyusi supposedly confirmed to Buchili that Almeida had indeed gone to Mecca with presidential authorization, and she them told Almeida that he could “be at ease”.
So Almeida was taken by surprise when the GCCC sent him a notification that he was being investigated for corruption. He contacted Buchili again, who told him that she had only recently become aware of the GCCC investigation. She advised him to remain calm.
Nyusi sacked Almeida in March 2016. As usual in such matters, no reason was given for the Minister's dismissal, but it is a reasonable guess that the investigation into the Mecca trip was behind the decision.
Just as with the supposed instructions from Nyusi, so the contacts with Amurane and Buchili seemed entirely verbal. Almeida did not produce evidence for any of them in written form.
Even if Nyusi did give instructions, an illegal order does not cease being illegal just because it comes from the President of the Republic. All officials have not only the right, but also the duty, not to obey illegal orders, and, as Minister of Justice, Almeida should have known this perfectly well.
The trial will continue on 14 June when Amurane will be called as a witness for the defence, as will Abdul Carimo, of the Mozambique Islamic Council, and Valig Tawabu, a manager of the travel agency that arranged the trip to Mecca.