Privinvest’s $1m Nyusi ‘contribution’ paid through scrap metal trader, records show

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The $1 million payment allegedly made to Mozambique’s President Nyusi in 2014 during the ‘hidden debts’ scandal was paid via a Middle Eastern scrap metal company, according to trade records and court documents.

Nyusi’s government is suing Privinvest, a Lebanese shipbuilder, accusing it of bribing an array of intelligence officials and politicians in order to win a $2 billion contract to build new naval vessels and a tuna fishing fleet.

Mozambique’s original court papers filed in London’s High Court didn’t mention any payment to Nyusi, despite this claim being aired in evidence heard in the New York trial of Jean Boustani, a Privinvest salesman who was ultimately acquitted of financial crimes in connection with the $2bn deals, at the end of 2019. Like a game of chicken in which two cars drive at each other at high speed, daring each other to swerve, Privinvest filed a high stakes defence, claiming that alongside other payments it also paid Nyusi — but that its payments were legitimate investments or election campaign contributions. Mozambique is being dishonest in portraying the financing as corrupt “unless the Republic is to suggest that the payments to President Nyusi were also bribes,” Privinvest argues.

In the run up to Mozambique’s October 2014 election, won by Nyusi as Frelimo’s candidate, Privinvest paid millions of dollars to the bank account of the ruling party’s central committee. According to Privinvest an intelligence official involved in the project indicated “that President Nyusi wished to receive funds from Privinvest for his campaign, separate from funds being contributed directly to Frelimo.” The shipbuilder claims that some donations were made from a pool of Privinvest funds under the control of the intelligence official, while a $1m payment was made by a Privinvest firm to an offshore company, on the understanding that this was “for the benefit of President Nyusi.” 

Privinvest contends the funds were then given to Nyusi via someone it believes to be a relative of his, called Sabrina Madebe, who Privinvest says was also an employee of Proindicus, one of the state-owned companies set up to manage the vessels, and which has since been dissolved. Madebe did not respond to numerous offers from Zitamar to comment on Privinvest’s claims. President Nyusi, who was Defence Minister in 2014, has previously denied any involvement in the scandal. His office did not respond to emailed questions, and his spokesperson did not respond to a message sent by WhatsApp.

Court documents state that this offshore company, Sunflower International Corp FZE, was registered in Ras al Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates. It can no longer be found in the UAE’s public corporate registry, and other searches failed to find any record of the company. However, according to trade records Sunflower International Corp FZE was involved in selling scrap metal from Mozambique to India, something confirmed by Zitamar when we spoke to the Indian importer.

It remains unclear why Nyusi allegedly requested a personal campaign contribution paid, according to the donor, via a scrap metal merchant. It is also uncertain why Privinvest was seemingly happy to make what it claims were political donations via a UAE-registered company instead of its normal route of making payments directly to Frelimo’s bank account. 

In response to questions to the shipbuilder, a spokesperson said: “Privinvest understands that this payment was, in whole or in part, for the benefit of President Nyusi,” but said it was unable to give more details about the payment without further “disclosure and evidence”. The spokesman added that the High Court in London has “granted permission to Privinvest to serve its claims on President Nyusi and it will do so, including to seek disclosure and evidence from President Nyusi, as well as from the Republic of Mozambique itself.”

The various court cases between the Republic of Mozambique, various banks and Privinvest, in which these claims are aired, continue.

© 2021, Zitamar LTD. All rights reserved.

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