Maputo — The Mozambican Attorney-General's Office (PGR) announced on Monday evening that there are 18 suspects in the case of the illegal loans, for over two billion US dollars, contracted by the fraudulent companies Proindicus, Ematum (Mozambique Tuna Company) and MAM (Mozambique Assets Management).
This was the first statement by any Mozambican state body since the arrest in South Africa on 29 December of former Finance Minister Manuel Chang, on an international arrest warrant issued by the American authorities.
Since Chang's arrest, three former executives of Credit Suisse, one of the banks that issued the loans, have been arrested in London, and Jean Boustani, a key figure in Privinvest, the Abu Dhabi-based company that was the sole contractor for Proindicus, Ematum and MAM, was picked up in New York.
Extradition proceedings are under way to bring Chang and the former Credit Suisse employees to stand trial in the US on charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering, wire fraud and securities fraud.
It took the PGR nine days to react to Chang's arrest, and its statement was very short on detail. It did not name any of the 18 suspects, none of whom have been detained.
The PGR opened an investigation into Ematum in 2015, and expanded it to cover Proindicus and MAM in 2016. But no charges have been laid, despite the blatantly illegal nature of the guarantees for the three loans issued by the previous government, under President Armando Guebuza. Most of the guarantees were signed by Chang, as Finance Minister, in 2013 and 2014, even though they smashed through the ceiling on guarantees set in the budget laws of those years.
Much of the PGR statement is a complaint that the Americans have supposedly failed to cooperate in the investigation.
It says that, after the audit of Proindicus, Ematum and MAM by the company Kroll in early 2017, the PGR requested cooperation from several countries, including the United States. It sent a formal request to the US on 30 March 2017, with several follow-ups, the latest of which was on 14 March 2018, asking for information "on bank movements, identifying the transfer of values from suppliers based in the United Arab Emirates (i.e. Privinvest) and other countries, in favour of suspected individuals" - including Chang, and others named in the America indictment.
The PGR complains that the Americans never responded to these letters, and the PGR only became aware of the facts mentioned in the American indictment when it obtained a copy on 31 December.
The "relevant facts" for the PGR's own investigations, the statement continued, occurred partly in the areas of jurisdiction of other countries "which makes the criminal investigation dependent on the information requested. The PGR has no other means of obtaining information about the facts without the collaboration of those countries".
Yet the PGR itself admits that the last time it tried to obtain data from the US was in mid-March 2018. So for the past nine months it let the matter drop. Furthermore, formal, protocol letters are easy to ignore, and we do not know whether the PGR followed these up with personal contact over the phone.
Furthermore, when nobody in Mozambique was sanctioned for the obvious violations of the budget law, the Americans may well have doubted the seriousness of the PGR.
The PGR also announced that "international experts" (who were not named) have been hired to assist Mozambican prosecutors "in identifying and seizing assets illegally acquired by the suspects and related with the crimes in question".
The statement adds that the PGR is now taking measures with the South African and US authorities "to protect the interests of the Mozambican state, with regard to holding the offenders responsible for their acts in Mozambican territory, and recovering the assets".
If this is a plea for Chang to be tried in Mozambique rather than in New York, it is unlikely to be successful. The New York court has already set 22 January as the date for the start of the trial.
The Americans argue that the case falls within their jurisdiction because some of the bribes and kickbacks paid to the conspirators went through US banks, and because American investors who purchased the Ematum bonds were swindled.
Other Mozambican state bodies remain completely silent about Chang's arrest and the American indictment. There has been no public statement from the government, or from the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, of which Chang is a member. Chang is also a member of the ruling Frelimo Party, and it too has said nothing at all about the scandal.