FRELIMO, Mozambique’s governing party, is at a historic crossroads. A party once known for the integrity of its leaders and its commitment to the welfare of all Mozambicans must choose: Pursue a lawsuit to recoup damages from the “hidden debt scandal” that will expose the role of Felipe Nyusi, its leader and the country’s president, in the corruption. Or scrap the suit to protect him.
The scandal arose from some $150 million Dubai-based shipbuilder Privinvest paid Mozambican officials to approve $2.1 billion in contracts to supply it with coastal patrol vessels, tuna boats, and a shipyard to maintain them. Privinvest kicked back $50 million from the deal to Credit Suisse executives in return for their arranging financing for the purchases. The loans they secured were not disclosed: either to the Mozambique parliament, as required by law, or to the IMF, as required under the terms of an IMF bailout loan. When the Wall Street Journal revealed them, donors cut funding, foreign investors pulled out, and the economy tanked.
This hidden debt scandal may well go down as the most damaging corruption scam in modern history. According to a recent estimate by a team from Mozambique’s Centro de Integridade Pública and Norway’s Chr. Michelsen Institute, the damages from the scandal over the 2016-2019 period alone equals $11 billion, $403 for every man, woman, and child in Mozambique. At the same time, the World Bank ranks it as the world’s third poorest nation with a GDP per capita for 2020 of a little over $1200.
Mozambique’s only chance to recover the enormous damage the scandal has done is a civil law suit the government filed against Privinvest, Credit Suisse, and many of the individuals involved. Privinvest has now countered. At paragraph 22.5 of its defense, the shipbuilder claims Nyusi was “fully aware of, and/or participated, in [the corruption], and indeed was at the heart of the matters now complained of by the Republic.”
The threat is now on the table. If Mozambique continues to press the suit, Privinvest will produce in excruciating detail evidence of Nyusi’s involvement. The only way to avoid the likely discrediting of the party’s ruling elite is for Mozambique to scrap the suit.
Will a party once led by the likes of Eduardo Mondlane and Samora Machel sell out the Mozambican people to maintain its grip on power? Will those party members who were their colleagues and those whom they inspired with their dream of a free and prosperous Mozambique stand up?