Shipbuilder Gets Go-Ahead for Lawsuit Against Mozambican Leader in Tuna Scandal

May 24, 2021

Britain’s High Court granted Abu Dhabi-based shipbuilder Privinvest permission on Friday to file a lawsuit against Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi, a counter-move in a case over a $2 billion corruption scandal, Privinvest said on Friday.

The case relates to government-guaranteed loans raised in 2013 and 2014 for projects, including a tuna-fishing fleet, for which Privinvest was the sole contractor.

Hundreds of millions of dollars went missing entirely, some in kickbacks and bribes, Mozambique and U.S. authorities say. Boats and infrastructure procured under the project have rusted away, the fleet catching only minimal amounts of tuna even when it did sail.

Mozambique filed a lawsuit against Privinvest in London in 2019 seeking the recovery of loans, and compensation. That case and several others, including a separate suit against Credit Suisse and any counterclaims, have been combined into a single case, which will now also include the personal claim against Nyusi.

Nyusi’s spokesman could not immediately be reached on Friday to comment on Privinvest’s latest counter-move.

Nyusi, who became president in 2015, was defense minister when the loans were agreed. He has previously denied wrongdoing, and has said the three state-owned companies involved in the projects were not linked to the defense ministry.

Privinvest, which also denies wrongdoing, acknowledges making payments to Mozambican officials, including Nyusi and his Frelimo party, but says they were legal campaign contributions, not bribes.

Mozambique’s government is trying to revoke its state guarantee for a portion of the loans on grounds of corruption.

Privinvest argues that if the payments were bribes, then Nyusi and the others would also be culpable for accepting them.

Privinvest said in a statement to Reuters that its claims against Nyusi and others would seek to make them liable to contribute to any damages that Privinvest or its billionaire owner, Iskandar Safa, may be ordered to pay.

“Any litigation in London … must reflect the direct and personal involvement … of the past and present members of (Mozambique’s) own government,” Privinvest said.

Both Privinvest and Credit Suisse — three of whose bankers were involved in arranging the loans and pleaded guilty in a related case in the United States to charges including conspiracy to violate anti-bribery laws — have issued their own claims in Mozambique’s lawsuit.

However, this is the first time Nyusi has been served with a lawsuit that could expose him to personal liability – a rare example of a British court allowing a claim to be filed against a head of state.

Mozambique remains on the hook for the debt, some of which was not disclosed to donors such as the International Monetary Fund. When the full extent of the borrowing was revealed in 2016, donors cut off support to Mozambique, triggering a currency collapse and debt default.

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