Maputo — The Maputo City Court on Monday sentenced former Transport Minister Paulo Zucula to ten years imprisonment for his part in the corrupt purchase of two aircraft from the Brazilian company Embraer in 2009.
Mateus Zimba, the former representative in Mozambique of the South African petro-chemical giant Sasol, who acted as a middleman in the deal, also received a ten year sentence. However, Jose Viegas, the chairperson of Mozambique Airlines (LAM) at the time was acquitted.
The case concerned a bribe of 800,000 US dollars paid by the Brazilian company, in order to ensure that LAM would buy two Embraer aircraft. The prosecution said the accused had used the LAM purchase of Embraer aircraft in order to enrich themselves, with Zimba, who had no prior connection with LAM or with civil aviation, setting up a shell company, "Xihivele", registered in Sao Tome and Principe, through which the bribe was channeled.
Embraer has already admitted to paying bribes in several countries, including Mozambique. The bribes came to light thanks to investigations by Brazilian and United States prosecutors into Embraer's business practices. Embraer confessed to paying bribes and reached a settlement with the US and Brazilian authorities which involved paying total fines of around 225 million US dollars, and giving full details of the bribes.
Viegas was acquitted, in part, because there was supposedly insufficient evidence against him, and in part because the statute of limitations on the crime of which he was accused, illicit participation in business, had expired.
Nonetheless the treatment of Viegas was very lenient, since according to documents from the Brazilian Federal Prosecutor's Office, it was Viegas who negotiated the size of the Mozambican bribe, although there is no evidence that he took any of the money himself.
Embraer paid the bribe, disguised as "sales commissions", in two instalments of 400,000 dollars each to a Xihevele account in Portugal.
On 22 April 2009, Embraer signed a "commercial representation agreement" with Xihevele. The stated purpose of this company was to promote the sale of aircraft to LAM, even though LAM had already signed the purchase agreement. Xihevele had not existed during the negotiations between LAM and Embraer.
The court also sentenced Zucula and Zimba to pay the Mozambican state compensation of 70.7 million meticais (slightly more than 1.1 million US dollars at current exchange rates). This sum, the court said, reflected not only the 800,000 dollar bribe but also the damage done to Mozambique's international reputation.
The goods confiscated from Zucula and Zimba (real estate and money frozen in bank accounts) will now revert to the state.
The defence lawyers for both men have announced that they will appeal against the verdict.