Maputo — At the start of the third week of the trial of 19 people facing charges in connection with Mozambique's largest financial scandal, the case of the "hidden debts", one of the defendants, businessman Sergio Namburete, burst into tears as he began to testify.
"I apologise to everyone I may have hurt", he sobbed. "My wife was jailed because of me. I can't forgive myself for this". (Marcia Nambuerete was one of the 20 people initially detained, and the only one against whom charges were dropped).
Judge Efigenio Baptista tried to calm Namburete down. "Tell us what really happened", he said. "We just want to know the truth".
Namburete was arrested because, in 2014, a bribe from the Abu Dhabi based company, Logistics International, part of the Privinvest group, was allegedly sent to Ines Moiane, the private secretary of the then President, Armando Guebuza, via the account of a company, SEN Consultancies and Investments, set up by Namburete.
Namburete, who describes himself as "a promoter of real estate investment", said he and Moiane had been friends for more than a decade, when Moiane came round to his house and asked him to assist in arrangements for "an investor from Abu Dhabi".
This "investor" turned to be senior Privinvest official Jean Boustani. Namburete said he had never met Boustani in person, but gave him the details of his company and its bank account over the phone. He added that both he and Moiane treated the Privinvest official as "Jean'.
When first contacted by Moiane, Namburete did not have a company of his own. So he quickly set one up. Moiane (who believed he already had a personal company), said that Boustani insisted on dealing with companies, not individuals. Moiane's known connection with Privinvest was that she had organised at least six meetings between Guebuza and Privinvest officials.
Boustani sent 877,500 euros (just over a million US dollars, at current exchange rates) to the SEN account: of this sum, 750,000 euros was the bribe paid to Moiane, which Namburete passed on to her. He kept the remaining 127,500 euros.
Namburete created SEN Investments on 18 November 2014, and seven days later, on 25 November, he signed a contract with Privinvest.
He told the court the purpose of the contract was to transfer rights to a plot of land near the Maputo coast from Moiane to Logistics International. The contract could not speak of selling the land, since, under the Mozambican constitution, all property in land vests in the Mozambican state.
But, as prosecutor Sheila Marrengula pointed out, the contract Namburete signed said nothing about land rights - instead it was for a civil construction consultancy lasting for a year. Namburete said the contract was worded that way, because the sale of land is illegal.
"So is the content of this contract true or not?", Marrengula asked.
"I made a mistake", replied Namburete. "But it wasn't premeditated. I had so many other things to do".
He said at the time he believed that Privinvest/Logistics International would build a 20 story block on Moiane's land.
"I was very happy when I learnt it was a business from Abu Dhabi", said Namburete. "I saw it was a business opportunity".
But in fact, apart from the initial funds from Boustani, the SEN account in euros never saw any money at all. It remained completely dormant. No 20 story building ever appeared. Privinvest did not occupy the plot of land, which Moiane says is still in her name.
Namburete insisted that SEN investments did a great deal of other business, but all in meticais. Baptista noted that this contradicted his initial interrogation in the Attorney-General's Office (PGR) in January 2019. Then he had said that the only project on SEN's books was one on the fight against coastal erosion, ordered by Maputo Municipal Council.
Asked why the alleged civil construction project on Moiane's land had never advanced, Namburete said he was never contacted again, "When they didn't continue the project, I was amazed", he claimed.
Asked what he had ever done to earn his 127,500 euros, Namburete said he had sent two invoices to Boustani, as requested, had given a lift to workers from Maputo Council's Urban Services Department, to demarcate Moiane's land, and had then drawn up a topographical plan. He had done nothing else for Privinvest, yet had picked up 127,500 euros.
"This is why you are accused of money laundering", remarked the judge.
Asked how he had used the 127,500 euros, Namburete said he had spent all of it, and much more, on medical treatment for his wife in South Africa, Nonetheless, he added that, if asked, he would repay the money. This makes him the first of the defendants to agree to repay to the Mozambican state the money received from Privinvest.
The trial has been adjourned until Thursday, because Tuesday is a public holiday (the anniversary of the independence agreement signed in Lusaka between Frelimo and the Portuguese government on 7 September 1974), and the court does not sit on Wednesdays.