Mozambique: Hidden Debts: Ematum Was Security Operation Disguised As Fishing Boats, Claims Rosario

Mozambique's former finance Minister Manuel Chang, left.

Maputo — The former head of economic intelligence in Mozambique's security service (SISE), Antonio Carlos do Rosario, on Tuesday claimed that some of the work of the Mozambique Tuna Company (Ematum) was in reality done for the country's defence and security forces, but this could not be admitted publicly "because it might scare off the banks".

Rosario was giving evidence before the Maputo City Court for the fifth consecutive day in the case of Mozambique's "hidden debts", in which he is one of 19 suspects, accused of crimes including embezzlement and money laundering.

Ematum and two other fraudulent companies, Proindicus and MAM (Mozambique Asset Management), obtained over two billion dollars from the banks Credit Suisse and VTB of Russia, in 2013 and 2014, on the basis of illegal loan guarantees issued by the government of the day, headed by President Armando Guebuza. Rosario became chairperson of the board of all three companies.

His claim that fishing for tuna was partly a front for security activities did not convince prosecutor Sheila Marrengula, who pointed out that there is nothing about defence and security in the Ematum company statutes, or in the viability study.

Asked if there was any evidence for his claim, Rosario admitted "the only proof is the transfer of equipment from Ematum to the defence ministry". He must have been talking about the three trimaran patrol vessels, known as "Ocean Eagles", since the 24 other boats in the Ematum fleet are plainly visible, lying uselessly at anchor in the Maputo fishing port.

Rosario claimed that the Ematum fleet was the only means available to the defence and security forces to keep a watch on the entire Mozambican Exclusive Economic Zone, from the South African to the Tanzanian borders. He drew a picture of boats scanning for anything out of the ordinary along the whole 2,800 kilometre length of the Mozambican coastline.

Satellites did not provide sharp enough images of objects bobbing about in the ocean, and even use of the radars and aircraft of Proindicus might not clarify the image sufficiently. So the Ematum vessels should be used. If criminal activities were underway, such as trafficking in people, the traffickers would only see fishing boats, and would not realise that they were under surveillance.

It is an entertaining story, but there is no evidence that such an Ematum surveillance operation ever happened. Judge Efigenio Baptista asked Rosario whether this really justified the Ematum debt of 850 million dollars, which was added to the existing Proindicus debt of 622 million dollars.

"Why spend all this money?", he asked. Were the Proindicus radars, boats and aircraft so inadequate that a fake fishing company had to be used as well?

Rosario argued that the point was to conceal the true nature of Ematum, so that the banks did not find out that some of the money was being used for defence purposes. He argued that subterfuge was needed "because Mozambique had no money. Only the defence and security forces would know that Ematum had a defence aspect".

Even more serious was the Ematum swindle that its supplier, the Abu Dhabi - based group Privinvest, had pulled. The loan money went from the banks, not to the companies in Maputo, but to Privinvest, which then sent the fishing boats and other assets to Mozambique at vastly inflated prices, as shown by the independent audit undertaken in 2017 by the company Kroll.

Marrengula pointed out that Privinvest charged Ematum 22.3 million dollars for each of the 21 longliner tuna fishing vessels, but the independent experts hired by Kroll believed the market price for such a vessel was no more than two million dollars. The total over-invoicing for all the 27 boats provided to Ematum came to over 600 million dollars.

Rosario refused to explain this discrepancy, and insisted that the deal with Privinvest was a good one, because it allowed for transfer of technology.

He also insisted that 500 million dollars of the 850 million dollar Ematum loan had been used for "defence expenditure". However, in 2017 the then defence minister, Atanasio M'tumuke, had categorically denied receiving any defence-related goods from this money. Rosario himself had taken a letter for M'tumuke to sign, saying that these goods had indeed been received.

M'tumuke refused to sign, and Rosario said this was because the letter had really been written by Kroll (which he regards as a dangerous nest of western spies". He admitted he had no way to prove this claim.

Furthermore, Privinvest itself had denied supplying any form of military equipment. There is also a straightforward mathematical argument - once the money for the fishing boats is deducted there was nowhere near 500 million dollars left in the Ematum loan.

Marrengula asked who had supplied this mysterious defence equipment. "That's a state secret", Rosario snapped.

A further problem with Ematum was that, when the fishing boats arrived, the fisheries inspection unit of the National Maritime Institute (INAMAR) declared that they were all unfit for fishing tuna.

"That's news to me", said Rosario - but he immediately backtracked, and admitted that adjustments had to be made to the boats to bring them into line with Mozambican legislation. Rosario claimed the problem was with outdated fisheries legislation which dated from the colonial epoch, and it was the legislation that should be altered, not the boats.

Marrengula also pointed out that the viability of Ematum had been questioned because of the high costs of operating the three trawlers that should have caught bait (squid), as well as high insurance costs and berthing fees.

This criticism came from an inside source - Cristina Matavele, who had once been the Ematum Chief Executive Officer, and left the company in 2016. She said that the insurance cost 40,000 US dollars a quarter for each of the Ematum boats, and berthing fees were 258 dollars a day for each boat.

"She never told me that Ematum was not viable!", exclaimed Rosario. His lawyer, Alexandre Chivale, pointed out that Matavele seemed to have changed her mind, since in 2015 she had written a supplement in the Maputo daily "Noticias" in defence. He will certainly have a chance to question her, since the court has called Matavele as a witness.

A further mystery was the "onshore centre of operations", which Privinvest should have supplied - but there was no sign of it.

"All the Privinvest assets were supplied", Rosario claimed. "The operations centre existed at the time of my arrest" (early 2019).

"So where is it?", asked Marrengula.

"It's a state secret. I'm not telling you!", Rosario retorted.

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