New Zealander ’a mastermind’ of Mozambique scam

A New Zealand man with links to Christchurch is being portrayed as a key player in a multi-billion dollar scandal enveloping the African nation of Mozambique.

Andrew Pearse is a London-based former Credit Suisse banker who is one of about 20 people charged in connection with the fraud, which has also implicated the former country's finance minister.

Mr Pearse, 49, has previously owned two properties in Christchurch, both of which were last sold on the same day in 2013 - the year the alleged fraud began.

The properties are now owned by a company whose title matches his initials - AJP Trustee Services - and another individual.

Mr Pearse and his associates are accused of skimming at least $US200 million ($NZ296m) from secret $2 billion loans, purportedly made to fund dubious maritime projects in Mozambique.

The $US45 million paid to Mr Pearse is the largest sum received by any of the individuals named in the indictment.

Speaking from Maputo, Jorge Matine from Mozambican financial watchdog, the Budget Monitoring Forum, said United States prosecutors appeared to be alleging Mr Pearse was one of the ringleaders of the scam.

"He's one of the masterminds of this scheme [of] corruption and illegal debt.

"The financial institutions and the bankers are not accountable so they can even create schemes that can destroy an economy and put people in a very difficult situation - a country in a very difficult situation."

Mr Matine was among those celebrating after US prosecutors filed their indictment.

"I was in a local pub and people started cheering and clapping. [People were saying], 'We've been fighting for five years. I don't have a job, I had to close down my company because of this. There's no business around'.

"So I'm very happy that now is a new beginning."

According to the indictment filed in New York's Eastern District Court, the loans were given by two London-based banks - Credit Suisse and VTB - to three state-owned companies in Mozambique.

The loans were guaranteed by the country's government, but never signed off by the Parliament.

The indictment says the money was never transferred to Mozambique but to Privinvest in Abu Dhabi.

From there, kickbacks and bribes were allegedly paid to officials in Mozambique, executives from Privinvest, and the London-based bankers.

Earlier today, Mozambique's Attorney General Office announced it had indicted 18 citizens in connection with the fraud, including the country's former finance minister, Manuel Chang, who was arrested in South Africa last week.

Mozambique, one of the most indebted countries in the world, admitted in 2016 to undisclosed lending, prompting the International Monetary Fund and foreign donors to cut off support and triggering a currency collapse and a default on its sovereign debt.

Tim Jones from the the Jubilee Debt Campaign, which advocates for debt relief in developing countries, said the scandal was the trigger for Mozambique's continuing debt crisis.

"When the scandal first erupted it caused the value of the Mozambique currency to halve against the dollar.

"That meant that imports into the country doubled in price and Mozambique is dependent on imports for many basic necessities like medicines and some foodstuffs."

The government has already defaulted on its repayments of the $2bn loan and Mr Jones said the people of Mozambique shouldn't have to pay it back.

"The Mozambique people should not have to pay a single cent on these debts that they have no say over and receive no benefit from.

"And those holders of the debts, who feel they've been wronged by Credit Suisse and VTB when they were sold the debts, should pursue them for the money and the individuals who benefited."

Mr Pearse and two of his former Credit Suisse colleagues - UK-national Surjan Singh and Detelina Subeva, of Bulgaria - are now on bail awaiting proceedings to be extradited to the US.