Mozambique: Hidden Debts - Judge Gives Defendant Five Days to Produce Evidence

Maputo — The Maputo City Court on Monday gave one of the defendants in the trial of 19 people charged with various offences arising from Mozambique's largest ever financial scandal, known as the case of the hidden debts, five working days to deliver banking and other documents that will prove the legitimacy of her financial transactions.

The defendant, Mbanda Buque Henning, is the sister of Angela Leao, wife of Gregorio Leao, former head of the Security and Intelligence Service (SISE).

Like her sister, but on a much smaller scale, Henning was involved in financial and real estate deals, which the prosecution believes are part of a complex money laundering scheme, operated by the Abu Dhabi based group Privinvest.

Henning told the court that in 2012 she had acquired the rights to a plot of land in the Maputo neighbourhood of Costa do Sol. The previous occupant, named as Maria Eduarda, had only built an outhouse and a wall on the land.

Henning purchased these, plus the rights, for 100,000 US dollars, partly in cheques and partly in cash deposits to Maria Eduarda's account. Initially, she wanted to build a seven story apartment block on the land, but this plan was vetoed by Maputo Municipal Council.

So instead she opted to build 14 houses on the land, later reduced to ten. She hired the company Arquitech to design the houses, for which she paid a further 33,000 dollars.

The total paid - 133,000 dollars - is much more money than most Mozambicans could ever dream of owning. But it pales into insignificance beside the millions of dollars and hundreds of millions of meticais mentioned by earlier defendants as if these were routine payments. For example, the bribe paid by Privinvest to Ndambi Guebuza, the oldest son of the then President Armando Guebuza, was 33 million dollars.

Henning's story is significantly different from that of the prosecution which said that the 12.865 million meticais received in her account came from the company MMocambique Construcoes, owned by a co-defendant, Fabiao Mabunda, although she insisted that she did not know Mabunda.

MMocambique Constucoes was a channel used for laundering the bribes received from Privinvest. The money that Henning received, according to the prosecution, was part of the eight million dollars the company had received from Privinvest.

Henning said the costs of building the houses was too much for her, so she reached an agreement with Angela Leao whereby each of the sisters would take five of the houses. Asked where her sister obtained her money, Henning said she did not know.

She also claimed not to know which contractors had been hired for the job, or when work on the houses began. "I just wanted five apartments", she said.

Despite Leao's apparent wealth, Henning lent her money - a total of 12.8 million meticais (about 200,000 US dollars, at current exchange rates) between 2013 and 2015. Leao repaid the loan with interest, she added. Henning then borrowed six million meticais from Leao.

Like earlier defendants, Henning could not produce documents showing the legitimacy of her financial dealings. But, unlike them, she insisted that the documents exist, and she can bring them to the court. So judge Efigenio Baptista gave her five days to do so.

Henning showed a curious lack of interest in the building activity on her plot in Costa do Sol. She admitted that she had never set foot there. Asked by Baptista how she could justify charging rent for houses she had never visited, she declared "I trust my sister".

She also claimed that anything prospective tenants need to know about the houses can be gleaned from photographs. "We're in the digital age now", she told the judge.

Henning is also titular owner of a house in the up-market neighbourhood of Polana, although the real owner appears to be Leao. The prosecution believes this house was acquired with money from Privinvest.

Henning said the house had been put in her name "to protect the interests of Angela Leao's son". Asked to explain this cryptic remark, Henning refused.

"It's very much a family matter", she told Baptista. "It's complicated. I don't want to talk about it here".

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