Mozambique: Hidden Debts - Money Laundering At the Foreign Exchange Bureau

Maputo — Maputo. 21 Sept (AIM) - One of the 19 defendants facing charges in connection with the scandal of Mozambique's "hidden debts" on Tuesday admitted to the Maputo City Court that he had allowed his employers in a foreign exchange bureau to manipulate an account he had opened at the country's largest commercial bank, the Millennium-BIM.

Khessaujee Pulchand had worked as a cashier at the Africambios foreign exchange bureau in central Maputo, an institution which looms large in the picture of money laundering drawn by the prosecution.

Last week, businessman Fabiao Mabunda told the court a complex tale of transactions of many millions of dollars, euros and meticais much of which his company, MMocambique Construcoes, had undertaken at the request of Angela Leao, the wife of Gregorio Leao, the former head of the Security and Intelligence Service (SISE).

The company, in 2013, received almost nine million US dollars from the Abu Dhabi based group Privinvest. Because Privinvest supposedly wanted the money back, Mabunda took millions of meticais out of his bank account and changed it into dollars. He did some of this money changing at Africambios.

The complex scheme Mabunda outlined to the court was that he turned meticais received from Angela Leao into dollars, which he used to pay back Privinvest. The funds from Privinvest in the MMocambique account were used to pay other businesses and various expenses stipulated by Leao.

On Tuesday Pulchand admitted that he knew Mabunda as a client of Africambios, but he staunchly denied knowing MMocambique Construcoes or having any dealings with this company.

Judge Efigenio Baptista then showed him the statements from his Millennium-BIM account. These showed repeated payments into the account from MMocambique Construcoes. Some were in the form of cheques, but two of the largest, for 4.92 and 6.58 million meticais, were bank transfers.

Pulchand admitted that the cheques and the bank transfers were genuine, but continued to insist that he had no dealings with MMocambique Construcoes,

He said that in 2004, his employers, the owners of Africambios, insisted that he, and other Africambios workers, open bank accounts.

Pulchand explained that his identity documents were used to open the account, which was in his name, but the Africambios management operated the account, and controlled the cheque book.

"If you don't know MMocambique Construcoes, how come you are handling its cheques", asked Baptista.

"Because I was told to", replied Pulchand.

"So you didn't know what was happening with your own account", mused the judge, wondering how Pulchand could ever prove anything about the account.

"And you thought this was normal?", he asked.

"I don't know how to reply", said Pulchand - but he added that opening the account was a condition for keeping his job at Africambios.

Prosecutor Sheila Marrengula said that, between January 2013 and June 2018, over 359.43 million meticais (over 5.6 million dollars at the current exchange rate) had entered Pulchand's BIM account.

He said he believed this figure was accurate, and "I assume the money has to do with Africambios".

"I didn't operate the account", he insisted. "They told me when I had to sign the cheques".

Pulchand admitted he had no idea of the origin of the funds - he just did as his employers ordered.

He accepted the prosecution's argument that, in reality. Africambios had operated with two sets of accounts - an official one, shown to the financial authorities, and the real one, based on Pulchand's BIM account.

"We didn't know anything", he claimed. "We just obeyed the orders of the boss".

"Did you think this was legal?", asked Marrengula.

"At the time I wasn't aware of the practice", he replied.

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