Mozambique: Major corruption trial begins

AP News
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Posted: Nov 17, 2009 11:53 AM

A former Cabinet minister and four other defendants are standing trial in the biggest corruption case to go to court in Mozambique since independence in 1975.

In the trial that began Monday, former Transport Minister Antonio Munguambe and four former officials of the company that runs this southeast African country's airports are accused of stealing nearly $2 million from the company. They face sentences of between eight and 12 years in prison.

Munguambe was appointed in 2005 and fired last year _ not because of the corruption scandal, but because of riots in Maputo over the high price of fuel.

Another corruption trial, involving former Interior Minister Almerino Manhenje, will be held sometime next year.

Mozambique passed an anti-corruption law in 2004. President Armando Guebuza, who first came to power in 2005 and won re-election last month, has promised to root out graft.

But Marcelo Mosse, an independent Mozambican anti-graft campaigner, said, "It does not mean that things will change just because the case is on."

Mosse said corruption is too entrenched within Guebuza's Frelimo party, which has ruled Mozambique since independence from Portugal in 1975. He said most of the accused in what is known here as the Airport Case are linked to the party, which controls state businesses.

The judge trying the Airport Case, Dimas Marroa, told reporters Tuesday some of the stolen funds went into Frelimo's coffers.

Prosecutors say the thefts from the airport company took place between 2005 and October 2008. The judge said he believes even more may have been taken.

Mosse said corruption undermines development in one of Africa's most impoverished countries, because even aid money from abroad is being stolen.

Mozambique ranked among the 50 most corrupt countries in the world the watchdog Transparency International said in its annual Corruption Perceptions Index released Tuesday. Mozambique was tied with countries like Nigeria and Libya in the ranking that measures perceived levels of public sector corruption in 180 countries, drawing on surveys of businesses and experts.

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Associated Press Writer Nkemeleng Nkosi in Johannesburg contributed to this report.