Mozambique makes five arrests in debt scandal

Mozambique makes five arrests in debt scandal

Mozambique Thursday detained five people, including businessmen and intelligence officials -- the first arrests of suspects linked to a government debt which plunged the country into its worst financial crisis.

Manuel Chang
Mozambique's former finance minister Manuel Chang was arrested over the Christmas holidays, triggering a political crisis for the ruling Frelimo party (AFP )

Among those arrested are Gregorio Leao, ex-director of the intelligence services, and Ines Moiane, a former assistant of ex-president Armando Guebuza, a prosecutor said in Maputo.

"There are five persons arrested so far," the public prosecutor told AFP.

A senior police officer confirmed to AFP one of them was businessman Teofilo Nhangumele, accused of introducing secret service officials to a company which went on to sell surveillance ships and a tuna-fishing fleet to the government.

"He was arrested as a precautionary measure, to prevent him from obstructing the ongoing investigation," said the officer, who asked not be named.

The debt scandal came to light in 2016 when it emerged the government had taken out loans amounting to $2-billion to buy the equipment, hiding the transaction from parliament and international donors. 

An independent audit found that a quarter of the loan amount was diverted, and unaccounted for.

When the debt was revealed, Mozambique -- which is one of the world's poorest countries and relies on donor aid -- was plunged into the worst financial crisis in its history as donors froze contributions.

The United States alleges at least $200 million was spent on bribes and kickbacks, including $12 million for former finance minister Manuel Chang, who allegedly signed off on debt guarantees.

Chang was arrested in South Africa in December on a US extradition request.

A Johannesburg court will on Friday decide on Chang's application for bail. 

Seven suspects including Mozambicans and ex-Credit Suisse bankers are accused by the US of fraud, conspiracy to financial security fraud, conspiracy to launder money.

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