Maputo — The Maputo City Court on Tuesday announced that it intends to bring to trial all 20 of the suspects charged in the case of Mozambique's "hidden debts".
The dispatch from the judge, Evandra Uamusse, cited by the independent television station STV, said that she found sufficient evidence in the charge sheet from the Public Prosecutor's Office to put all 20 on trial. The accused can still ask the Higher Court of Appeal to overturn the judge's decision.
The term "hidden debts" refers to the fraudulent scheme whereby three security-linked companies, Ematum (Mozambique Tuna Company), Proindicus and MAM (Mozambique Asset Management) were set up, which then borrowed over two billion US dollars from the banks Credit Suisse and VTB of Russia.
Loans on this scale to recently formed companies with no track record, and run by the Mozambican security and intelligence service (SISE), were only possible because government officials, notably Finance Minister Manuel Chang, signed loan guarantees - pledging that, if the companies did not repay, the Mozambican state would be liable.
Ten of the accused have been in preventive detention since February, while one was granted bail. The other nine were allowed to remain at liberty - until Friday, when Uamusse ordered that they too should be brought into detention.
Her main argument was that the suspects presented a flight risk. "New circumstances" had arisen, she wrote, and there were "new revelations", some weighing in favour and some against the suspects. They might design "other strategies" - and she feared these might include absconding.
She may have acted too late. For when the police went to collect the nine suspects and bring them into custody, two could not be found. They are lawyer Mbanda Henning and business person Zulficar Ahmad.
The crimes which some or all of the 20 accused are facing are corruption, blackmail, embezzlement, abuse of office, violation of management rules, money laundering, falsification of documents, use of false documents, and membership of a criminal association.
The most prominent of the suspects are the former head of SISE, Gregorio Leao, and his wife Angela Leao; the former head of economic intelligence at SISE, Antonio do Rosario, who became chairperson of all three fraudulent companies, the oldest son of former President Armando Guebuza, Ndambi Guebuza, Guebuza's former personal secetary, Ines Moiane, and one of his former advisers, Renato Matusse.