Mozambique’s Nyusi to blame over ‘tuna bond’ scandal, shipbuilder’s owner says

By Sam Tobin

LONDON (Reuters) – Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi was ultimately responsible for the failure of the projects at the centre of the “tuna bond” scandal, the owner of Emirati-Lebanese shipbuilder Privinvest told London’s High Court on Wednesday.

Privinvest and its owner French shipping magnate Iskandar Safa are facing a $3.1-billion lawsuit from the African republic for allegedly paying millions in bribes to Mozambican officials and Credit Suisse bankers.

Mozambique alleges more than $136 million was paid to secure favourable terms in relation to three projects in 2013 and 2014, including one designed to exploit the republic’s tuna-rich coastal waters.

Privinvest and Safa deny any wrongdoing and say any payments made were lawful. They say the case is a politically motivated attack to deflect blame from Nyusi and other senior officials, who they argue squandered the potential of the projects.

“Privinvest does not pay bribes, full stop,” Safa said as he gave evidence by videolink from Paris.

In his written witness statement, Safa blamed the failure of the projects on Nyusi, who he said “wanted the projects to fail” to undermine his predecessor Armando Guebuza’s political authority.

Nyusi was not immediately available for comment.

“When President Nyusi replaced former President Guebuza a power struggle ensued between them,” Safa said.

“President Nyusi made deliberate decisions to undermine the projects and as a result the republic failed to take the necessary steps to monetize the projects as intended.”

Privinvest has tried to drag Nyusi into the case over payments of $11 million it says it made to fund Nyusi’s successful run for president and his ruling Frelimo party’s election campaign.

The High Court ruled last month that Nyusi has immunity as a head of state, but an appeal against that ruling is expected to be heard in February. Nyusi has denied any wrongdoing.

The trial began in earnest last week after a delay caused by Mozambique’s 11th-hour settlement with Credit Suisse’s new owner, UBS.

Mozambique has switched its focus to Privinvest and is seeking to recoup losses of $700 million and potential liabilities of $2.4 billion.

Its case centres on deals struck by state-owned companies with Privinvest for loans and bonds from banks including Credit Suisse, backed by undisclosed state guarantees.

But hundreds of millions of dollars went missing and when the government debt came to light in 2016, donors such as the International Monetary Fund temporarily halted support, triggering a currency collapse, defaults and financial turmoil.

(Reporting by Sam Tobin; Editing by Rod Nickel)