Ex-President Armando Guebuza took the stand in Mozambique’s biggest corruption scandal on Thursday, defending his government’s decision to take on massive secret loans that sparked an economic crisis.
The country, which is among the poorest in the world, illegally borrowed $2 billion (1.76 billion euros) from international banks in 2013 and 2014 to buy a tuna fishing fleet and surveillance vessels.
The government masked the loans from parliament, but the debt came to light in 2016, prompting donors including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to cut funding.
An independent audit later found that $500 million had been diverted and has still not been disclosed.
“The decision to seek resources was made by me,” Guebuza told the court.
“There were strong threats against the Mozambican people and territorial sovereignty,” he said from the stands.
He said the guard ships were needed to fight piracy, illegal immigration and drug trafficking along the country’s long coast.
The risks at the time included attacks by the former rebel group Renamo, which is now the largest opposition party, he said.
“It was studied and concluded that we needed resources,” said Guebuza, the most senior witness in the trial.
He warned the court not to go into details about national defense and security.
“I think there has been too much talk in this court on the issue of defense and security. You should not do that. We must defend our sovereignty.”
The 79-year-old former leader, dressed in a gray suit, white shirt and red tie, appeared relaxed even when the power went out several times during his testimony, which was broadcast live on local television channels.
The trial took place in a special courtroom set up in a white tent in a maximum-security prison in the capital Maputo.
Behind the ex-president sat his eldest son Ndambi, dressed in an orange prison uniform.
He is one of 19 high-profile defendants on trial for alleged links to the case.
He was arrested in February 2019 and has been incarcerated ever since.
Last year, Ndambi Guebuza denied allegations that he took bribes to persuade his father to approve the maritime deal and facilitate the secret loans.
When the debt scandal surfaced, the IMF and other donors cut financial support, leading to a national debt and currency collapse.
Finance Minister Adriano Maleiane told the court last week that his predecessor had covered the debts.