French billionaire gets boost in battle with president of Mozambique over tuna scandal

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Filipe Nyusi
Filipe Nyusi
Alexei Nikolsky, TASS via Getty Images

A French billionaire got a boost in his battle with the president of Mozambique over their roles in a $2 billion loan scandal to finance a fishing fleet that embroiled banks including Credit Suisse Group AG.

Iskandar Safa and his shipbuilding company Privinvest won a London court ruling on Friday allowing them to try to hold President Filipe Nyusi legally responsible for any damages if payments made to Nyusi were found to be bribes.

Privinvest said earlier this year it made campaign donations to Nyusi and other senior officials after negotiating contracts for government maritime projects but has denied the remittances were bribes. Nyusi was the ruling Frelimo party’s candidate for president at the time a payment was made to him in April 2014.

“It would have been artificial if President Nyusi had not been a defendant to Mozambique’s claims, given his centrality to the alleged wrongdoing,” Privinvest said in a statement, calling the Mozambican government’s claims “meritless.”

Nyusi can’t claim immunity from his time before he was head of state, Privinvest’s lawyer Duncan Matthews argued. But actually serving the claim on Nyusi is certain to prove difficult, he said in a court filing.

The claims are the latest in a multiyear saga of legal action arising out of deals in 2013 and 2014 to raise $2 billion for a new coastal patrol force and tuna fishing fleet in Mozambique, one of the world’s poorest countries. Mozambique took to the courts to pursue Credit Suisse and Privinvest after the US Justice Department alleged the contracts were a front for government officials and bankers to enrich themselves.

A Credit Suisse spokesman declined to comment.

Nyusi wasn’t president at the time the payment was made and under Mozambican law was allowed to receive political donations, Frelimo spokesman Caifadine Manasse said in February when the claims first came to light.

Nyusi wasn’t represented in the London court hearing Friday and an email sent to Frelimo asking for comment wasn’t immediately returned.

- With assistance from Matthew Hill and Borges Nhamire.

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