Maputo — On the instruction of the Central Office for the Fight against Corruption (GCCC), Mozambique's former Transport Minister, Paulo Zucula, was detained on Tuesday morning at his central Maputo home, according to a report in the independent newssheet, "Carta de Mocambique".
Zucula is under investigation on suspicion of taking bribes from the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, in connection with the construction of the international airport in the northern city of Nacala.
Mozambican prosecutors allege that Odebrecht paid a bribe of 315,000 US dollars to Zucula, who was transport minister in the government headed by President Armando Guebuza. A bribe, of 250,000 dollars, was supposedly paid to a second member of the Guebuza government, Finance Minister Manuel Chang.
Chang is already under detention - but in South Africa, in connection with a much bigger scandal, that of the over two billion dollars of loans to three fraudulent, security-related companies that the Guebuza government guaranteed. He is currently awaiting extradition to Mozambique.
A businessman and architect of Italian descent, resident in Maputo, Emiliano Finocchi, was also detained in Maputo on Tuesday, apparently in connection with the same case. It is not yet known how much money he is alleged to have taken from Odebrecht.
Odebrecht admitted, in 2016, that it had paid bribes, equivalent to 439 million dollars, in 11 countries, including Mozambique. In a case brought in New York, Odebecht and a Brazilian petrochemical company, Braskem, pleaded guilty to paying vast amounts in bribes to government officials all over the world. The charges were brought by the United States, Brazilian and Swiss authorities, and the two companies settled the case by agreeing to pay a combined fine of 3.5 billion US dollars.
Odebrecht admitted to paying bribes of 900,000 dollars in Mozambique - but the 2016 court case gave few details. Only last year, doubtless thanks to cooperation between Mozambican and Brazilian prosecutors, did the names of Zucula and Chang emerge.
The alleged bribes paid to the two former ministers amount to 565,000 dollars, leaving 335,000 dollars unaccounted for. The persons or institutions to whom this part of the bribe went have not yet been named.
Nacala International Airport is far and away the most modern airport in Mozambique. It is also among the least used. When it was inaugurated in 2014 by Guebuza, the forecast was that it would handle 500,000 passengers and 5,000 tonnes of cargo a year. There were dreams of Nacala becoming an air traffic hub linking southern Africa to the Middle East and to south Asia.
But not a single foreign airline has expressed an interest in using Nacala. The only scheduled flights are by Mozambique Airlines (LAM) to and from Maputo twice a week. Charter flights of the Brazilian mining company Vale also use the airport, largely because Vale owns the coal terminal at Nacala-a-Velha port.
With so little traffic, there is no way that Nacala airport can repay the debt incurred (at least 125 million dollars) in building it.