Mozambique: Hidden Debts - Rosario Calms Down, but Denies Authenticity of Evidence

Maputo — Judge Efigenio Baptista, of the Maputo City Court, on Thursday warned Antonio Carlos do Rosario, former head of economic intelligence in the Mozambican Security and Intelligence Service (SISE), that, if he continues to show disrespect for the court, not only will he face contempt of court charges, but he will be thrown out of the trial altogether, and given no opportunity to finish his testimony.

Rosario is one of 19 people on trial for crimes arising out of the country's largest ever financial scandal, the case of the "hidden debts". He is believed to have played a key role in arranging the loans of over two billion US dollars to three fraudulent, security related companies, Proindicus. Ematum (Mozambique Tuna Company) and MAM (Mozambique Asset Management) from the banks Credit Suisse and VTB of Russia.

The loans were only possible because the government of the day, then under former President Armando Guebuza, issued illegal loan guarantees - which meant that, when the three companies went bankrupt, the Mozambican state became liable to repay the money.

On Tuesday, Rosario swaggered into the courtroom, waving to the press and giving clenched fist salutes. He repeatedly interrupted the judge, and accused the prosecutor, Sheila Marrengula, of "playing games".

He demanded that the prosecution should not use the independent audit into Proindicus, Ematum and MAM, undertaken in 2017 by the company Kroll. This led Baptista to point out that an accused person cannot tell the court what can be admitted into evidence and what cannot.

Rosario then told the judge "you should be ashamed of yourself" and declared "it's better to end this trial and you give your sentence now". At this, Baptista announced the start of contempt of court proceedings, reading out a short list of Rosario's more outrageous statements, which will be sent to the Public Prosecutor's Office.

When the interrogation resumed on Thursday morning, Baptista warned that he will not tolerate any further outbursts. He told Rosario "If you weren't already detained, I would order your arrest".

If Rosario continued to insult the court, he said, he would invoke a clause in the Penal Procedural Code which allows the judge to declare an end to testimony when the accused persists in disrespectful behavior. If that happened, Rosario would be sent out of the court and only recalled on the day of the verdict and sentence.

This warning may have had a salutary effect, or possibly Rosario's lawyer had persuaded him to behave more prudently. In either case, Rosario was notably calmer than on Tuesday and no longer seemed determined to make himself a martyr.

His calmer attitude persisted for most of the day - until Marrengula cited emails which he had supposedly sent or forwarded, and which had been taken from the computers of others among the accused.

Rosario claimed he had no connection with Teofilo Nhangumele, a man described earlier in the trial as an "unofficial" SISE agent and who had apparently been a bridge between Mozambican officials and Privinvest, the Abu Dhabi based group which became the sole contractor for Proindicus, Ematum and MAM. Nhangumele told the court he was "a facilitator" working with his old friend Cipriano Mutota, the then head of the SISE Studies and Projects Office.

Rosario denied any connection either with Mutota, although they were both high ranking SISE officers, or with Nhangumele and his associates Bruno Langa and Ndambi Guebuza, the oldest son of the then President Armando Guebuza. Yet Nhangumele's group had visited Privinvest shipyards in Germany and Abu Dhabi at exactly the same time as Rosario (in December 2011 and January 2012).

Rosario continued to deny they were on the same delegation, even though Marrengula could show the court a report on the visit to Abu Dhabi which lists Rosario, Nhangumele and Guebuza Junior together, and includes a photograph of them. Rosario suggested it was some kind of forgery, denying that the Antonio in the photograph looked anything like him.

There were many other compromising emails showing the contacts between Rosario and Nhangumele's group. He denied them all. "It's my email address", he admitted, "but I never used my personal email for SISE business, and I never even knew Ndambi Guebuza's email address".

"I didn't receive these emails, and I didn't forward them", declared Rosario. He demanded to see his own Iphone, seized by prosecutors when he was arrested in 2019. That, he claimed, would allow him to see the emails he had really sent and received.

But perhaps the most damning piece of correspondence shown by Marrengula came from within SISE. It was a letter of 2019 from the current SISE general director, Julio Jane, to Attorney-General Beatriz Buchili, which confirmed that SISE had paid for the air tickets and expenses for the Abu Dhabi trip by Nhangumele and his companions.

"That's news to me", said Rosario. "I am surprised that SISE says I travelled with people whom I did not travel with". He said he had no idea who could have authorized buying air tickets for people such as Nhangumele and Guebuza who did not work for SISE.

Clearly rattled by the trail of email evidence, Rosario reverted to insults. He claimed the trial was "a farce", and accused the Attorney-General's Office of "legitimizing the presence of spies in my country" - a reference to the Kroll auditors,

"When you say such things, you lose the opportunity to give your version of events", said Baptista. "You can just say 'I didn't send or forward the emails'".

Whenever he mentions Kroll, Rosario suggests this company is a dangerous nest of western spies.

In fact, Kroll is a highly respected company, internationally recognized for the high quality of its forensic auditing. It was Kroll which showed that at least 500 million dollars of the 850 million dollar loan to Ematum could not be accounted for, and it was Kroll that brought in experts who showed that the fishing boats, radars and other assets provided by Privinvest had been overpriced by some 714 million dollars.

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