FRELIMO on edge as verdict due on boat scandal… war on terror overshadows case

Frelimo cartoon

Frelimo cartoon. Cartoon by Alex Harris

from ALEX HARRIS in New York, USA
NEW YORK, (CAJ News) IN scenes to rival the Cold War, the conflict in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province has drawn players from the United States (US), France and Russia.

Lined up against them are the terror groups, al Shabaab and Islamic State.

In late 2017, armed guerrillas from a local branch of al Shabaab began a campaign of intimidation, crossing from Tanzania to burn villages and carry out public beheadings on those accused of helping government forces. This year, Islamic State fighters joined the fray.

Russia’s private military group, Wagner, has deployed armed personnel only to have their men ambushed or beheaded by the rebels.

France said it would help with intelligence, including scans from one of its satellites, but the government in Maputo is said to still be “in negotiation” with Paris.

The United States has offered similar support while China and Germany have increased surveillance of the area.

Observers say years of neglect both sides of the border – in northern Mozambique and southern Tanzania – by colonial authorities and after independence – has led to genuine grievance among locals, now being exploited by extremists.

The fighters attack police stations, army convoys and town centres, then melt into the community.

Former members of the armed forces reportedly carry out training for new recruits.

Focus on President Nyusi

It’s an embarrassment to President Filipe Nyusi, the country’s first leader to come from Cabo Delgado, and unable to control his home province.

Within the ruling Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) party, there are theories that different factions of the party are aiding the guerrillas to destabalise president Nyusi.

While the extremists have upset local communities by burning down hundreds of homes, the army has also fallen out of favour by arresting entire villages suspected of aiding the enemy. Reports of torture by the security forces are common.

But things grew worse last week for Nyusi and his party in a corruption trial in New York when the president himself was named as having received money from Privinvest, a Lebanese ship-building firm.

Six years ago, Privinvest won a tender to supply the government with fishing vessels and intercept craft to police the Mozambique Channel where poaching is rife with most of the catch taken to China.

Finance was provided by a Russian bank and Credit Suisse, leaving a $2 billion gap in the budget.

Privinvest completed the tender and also provided technology for Mozambique to set up its own ship yard, but environmental groups say many of the vessels have yet to be deployed.

Using Obama-era laws on deals that either use the dollar or affect American investors, the US Department of Justice brought a case against bankers from Credit Suisse who pleaded guilty to stealing millions from the project.

Illicit money

The jury in New York is also hearing the case of Privinvest salesman, Jean Boustani, who said his company helped fund Frelimo’s 2014 election campaign, and gave money to Mr Nyusi and to the family of former president Armando Guebuza.

The court is expected to wrap up hearings this afternoon, 2nd December. A guilty verdict from the jury would, in a sense, confirm Boustani’s admission of the payments.

Embarrassing enough, but an appeal or retrial could be worse for the Party. Boustani made the claims to a tired courtroom near the end of his testimony. In a new hearing, they would mark the starting point.

Mr Nyusi has denied the allegations.

In Maputo, the state has taken its own legal action against Privinvest boss and Lebanese national, Mr Iskandar (Sandy) Safa whose company provides naval craft to governments around the world, including France and Germany.

If it goes ahead, the case will be heard by a commercial court in London, though with the latest revelations it’s not clear whether Mr Nyusi will proceed.

The United States is unlikely to pursue anyone in Frelimo so long as they need Mozambique as an ally in the fight against al-Shabaab. The EU ambassador to the country, Antonio Gaspar, has called for a “co-ordinated approach to violent extremism”, and said Brussels was ready to help.

Corruption laws

But under tough anti-corruption laws in Europe and the US, defence contractors may be wary of engaging with Mozambique. But there will also be focus on military aid including the French offer to share intelligence, with questions on whether money has changed hands.

Adding to woes, Mozambique’s general election in October was criticized by donor countries. The EU mission spoke of “an unlevel playing field”, with Frelimo using state resources, while the US embassy in Maputo cast doubt on fairness.

Facebook took down a site it claimed was a Russian attempt to influence the poll.

The main opposition, Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO), claimed widespread rigging, with some of their observers arrested when they reported acts of voter fraud to the police.

Frelimo won a landslide victory of 73 per cent.

There have since been armed attacks in Renamo strongholds fuelling fear of a return to civil war.

Government forces already tied down in the north would be hard pressed to deal with violence elsewhere.

The court in New York resumes on Monday, 2nd December around 3pm southern Africa time, with a verdict possible the same day and almost certainly by the end of the week.

– CAJ News

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