Mozambique: Hidden Debts - Defendant Refuses to Answer Questions

Maputo — Businessman Sidonio Sitoe on Friday evening suddenly stopped collaborating with the Maputo City Court, which is trying him, and 18 others, for crimes in connection with Mozambique's greatest financial scandal, known as the case of the "hidden debts".

In the afternoon, Sitoe answered questions from the judge, Efigenio Baptista, and the public prosecutor, Sheila Marrengula, which centred on the houses he had sold in 2013-2014 to Angela Leao, wife of Gregorio Leao, the then head of the Security and Intelligence Service (SISE). The prosecution belives that the houses formed part of a money laundering scheme, orchestrated by the Abu Dhabi based group, Privinvest, which had paid huge bribes to several Mozambican officials, including the Leao family.

But when the turn came for the Mozambique Bar Association (OAM), which is assisting the public prosecutor, to question him, Sitoe changed his attitude dramatically, and refused to answer a single question.

He claimed that "the court has made its mind up" and declared "I have placed this in the hands of God. Let God's will be done".

Sitoe refused to answer even the simplest questions from the OAM - such as how many years' experience he has in the building trade, whether he possesses an official government building permit, and whether he ever registered his houses with the registry office.

He kept completely mute when asked whether he found it strange that Angela Leao had paid him, not directly, but through the company MMocambique Construcoes, owned by another of the accused, Fabiao Mabunda.

Sitoe maintained his silence when the defence lawyers, including his own defence attorney, questioned him.

Despite Sitoe's uncooperative attitude, Baptista allowed him to make a concluding statement to the court. This threw no light on his real estate transactions with Angela Leao. "It's a very difficult time for me and my family", he said. "Many years of sacrifice have been thrown on the garbage heap because of problems that have nothing to do with me".

"I built houses and sold them to Angela Leao", he said. "I received payment in cash and I invested it in other houses".

He objected to repeated questioning as to the source of the money he received from Leao. "If I sell bread or mangoes, I don't have to ask the buyer where his money come from", Sitoe declared. (But that may be because a loaf of bread or a handful of mangoes do not usually cost hundreds of millions of dollars).

During his earlier interrogation, Sitoe admitted that he had no documents for many of his transactions. He had never signed a contract with Leao, and there were no receipts for any of the cash payments involved, some of which were for hundreds of millions of meticais.

Baptista adjourned the trial until Monday.

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