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JOHANNESBURG, Feb 2 (Reuters) - A Lebanese shipbuilder at the centre of a $2 billion debt scandal in Mozambique said it made payments to its now-president and ruling party in 2014, but said these were legal campaign donations not bribes, according to a London court filing.
Privinvest said payments made to President Filipe Nyusi in the run-up to his election and to the Frelimo party were allowed under Mozambican law, according to the Jan. 15 filing at London’s High Court.
The case relates to a series of tuna fishing, maritime security and shipbuilding projects in which Privinvest was the sole contractor and for which Mozambique borrowed $2 billion between 2013 and 2014, provided or arranged by banks including Credit Suisse. Nyusi was defence minister at the time the projects were agreed.
U.S. authorities say hundreds of millions of dollars went missing in what they described as a front for a bribery and kickback scheme. The scandal prompted donors including the International Monetary Fund to cut off support to Mozambique, triggering a currency collapse and debt default in 2016.
Nyusi’s spokesman, Caifadine Manasse, denied that the Mozambican leader had any connection with the scandal and said that any campaign donations were in line with the law.
“President Nyusi has no possible relation to the illegal debt,” Manasse told Reuters in response to questions about Privinvest’s court filing.
“We are waiting serenely for the truth to come out, and that will show that neither Frelimo or President Nyusi are involved in any wrongdoing,” Manasse said.
The filing by Privinvest was part of its response to a lawsuit brought by Mozambique in 2019 against it, Credit Suisse and other defendants, seeking compensation and the recovery of loan funds. Mozambique also sued Privinvest’s billionaire owner Iskandar Safa later that year, accusing him of fraud.
Both Privinvest and Safa have denied wrongdoing, while Credit Suisse issued a counter claim to the London lawsuit arguing it had the right to seek damages for money it is owed.
The Jan. 15 filing by Privinvest and Safa says Privinvest made campaign donations to Nyusi and the Frelimo party but that “none of this was a quid pro quo for the projects” and that “no claim of bribery” could be made.
“If there was any such conspiracy, President Nyusi...was fully aware of, and/or participated, in it, and indeed was at the heart of the matters now complained of by the Republic,” the filing said.
Credit Suisse declined to comment on the London filing.
U.S. prosecutors brought a separate case in relation to the scandal in 2019, in which three Credit Suisse bankers pleaded guilty to charges including conspiracy to violate anti-bribery laws. Credit Suisse has said that the defendants hid their contacts from the bank. U.S. authorities have also charged a former Mozambican finance minister over his alleged role and are seeking his extradition from South Africa.
The United States was the first to bring charges in the affair, with criminal and civil actions by authorities in Mozambique following soon afterwards. (Reporting by Emma Rumney in Johannesburg and Manuel Mucari in Maputo; Writing by Emma Rumney; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Nick Tattersall)