Mozambique: Attorney-General Defends Her Handling of “secret Debts”

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Maputo — The Mozambican Attorney-General, Beatriz Buchili, on Thursday insisted that handing over to the Administrative Tribunal all possible financial offences connected with the scandal of the “hidden debts” is the legally correct thing to do.

Speaking to the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on the second day of a debate on her annual report on the state of justice in the country, Buchili stressed that, under the Mozambican Constitution, the Administrative Tribunal is the body that inspects the legality of public expenditure, and holds officials responsible for any financial infractions.

The Attorney-General's Office (PGR), she argued, thus had no option but to hand over to the Tribunal the investigations into financial offences connected with the government guaranteed loans for over two billion US dollars which the security-related companies Ematum, Proindicus and MAM had obtained in 2013-2014 from the banks Credit Suisse and VTB of Russia.

The indications of these financial offences comes mainly from the independent audit into the three companies by Kroll Associates, the world's foremost forensic auditing company. The PGR has been in possession of the Kroll audit report since April 2017, and published the executive summary of the report in June 2017. But it was not until 29 January this year that the PGR announced that it had submitted the matter to the Administrative Tribunal.

Buchili did not explain this delay. There is nothing new about the potential financial offences mentioned in the PGR's January statement, or in Buchili's report to parliament. They concern such matters as the illegal government guarantees that smashed through the ceiling on guarantees established by the 2013 and 2014 budget laws, the violation of procurement norms in selecting the banks and supplier involved in the scandal, and the execution of contracts without prior approval of the Administrative Tribunal. All this was known at least a year ago.

Buchili insisted that criminal proceedings are quite independent of the Administrative Tribunal's investigation of financial offences. The PGR was continuing the criminal investigation, but the trail left by the two billion dollars was all outside the country, in other jurisdictions.

The questions raised included “Do the assets provided correspond to the money? Was there over-invoicing? Was money diverted?” Buchili claimed that answers to these questions could only come from the authorities in the other countries involved. (She did not name them, but they clearly include Britain, France, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates),

Buchili said that information had been requested from seven countries, “and in two years only one has replied, in March 2018. The IMF (International Monetary Fund) knows about this, and once again we ask our partners to help obtain this information. We cannot conclude the investigations without this”.

This did not convince opposition deputies. “Is there really nothing to investigate in Mozambique, just because the payments were made abroad?”, asked Antonio Muchanga, of the rebel movement Renamo.

He accused Buchili of acting, not as the Attorney-General, but “as the lawyer acting for those who plunged the country into debt”, and of using deliberate delaying tactics.

“You just want to wear out Mozambicans and deceive the international community”, said Muchanga. “You don't even believe what you're saying. If you have any dignity, resign now!”

Fernando Bismarque, of the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), also called on Buchili to resign, and found it absurd that after three years of investigation nobody has been charged with any offence over the Ematum, Proindicus and MAM loans.

Renamo deputies repeatedly claimed that the judiciary, including the PGR, is politically subordinate to the government, an accusation vehemently rejected by Buchili. “Free yourself from the bonds”, urged senior Renamo member Jose Manteigas. “If you don't, you will leave the PGR without honour or glory”.

In response to these deputies, Buchili declared “We have to obtain proof before we can charge anybody. We are not shelving the case”.

“It is extremely important to obtain information from foreign jurisdictions, but that does not mean ignoring evidence from inside the country”, she added.

Buchili also denied Renamo claims that she was “intimidating” journalists. This accusation arose, ironically enough, because of praise she had lavished on the Mozambican press, whom she described as “our partners”. But she had also warned against the “yellow press”, and urged journalists to take an “ethical and professional stance”, pointing out that the country's press legislation envisages penalties for media that publish falsehoods.

Renamo deputy Julio Picardo said this was “intimidation”, but Buchili retorted “all professions must be exercised within the law, and journalism is no exception”.

The real intimidation, she accused, came from those who threatened “to tie up journalists with wire” - a direct reference to Antonio Muchanga. On 15 April, this Renamo deputy, had publicly threatened, on a television programme, “to tie up with wire”, prominent journalist Marcelo Mosse, whom he alleged had libelled him. Muchanga's threat has been condemned by all press freedom bodies in the country.

Deputies from the ruling Frelimo Party asked Buchili if prosecutors would now take action against Muchanga. She replied that in such cases, it was up to the offended party to begin legal proceedings. But if Mosse were to take action, he could request assistance from the Public Prosecutor's Office.

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