The scandal of CMN and Mozambique in 2013

Bribes history in Mozambique

It is a story of huge bribes and a debt of nearly 2 billion dollars that Maputocapital of Mozambique is unable to repay. It is a story of French ships, Swiss bankers, and Lebanese intermediaries, which has finally been brought to justice, but which is far from having revealed all its secrets.

Armando Guebuza is all smiles. In a dark blue suit and red tie, the Mozambican president stands proudly under the ceiling of the Constructions Mécaniques de Normandie (CMN) hangar in Cherbourg. At his side, François Hollande does not hide his satisfaction. The two heads of state are holding up two trophies of sheet metal cut from what will soon be used to build the ships ordered by Mozambique from the French shipbuilding company. One man with a tanned complexion is still holding on to them: Iskandar Safa, the boss of Privinvest, the shipyards’ parent company in Africa.

This Beirut-born Franco-Lebanese billionaire, who was close to former spy and high ranking Corsican official Jean-Charles Marchiani in the 1980s, has been frequenting French business circles for decades. On this September 30, 2013, he is savoring his victory. Valued at more than 200 million euros, the order placed with CMN – 24 fishing boats and six patrol boats – allows Hollande to announce the safeguarding of the shipyard. “The contract of the century”, according to Iskandar Safa. It has been in the works for more than two years, and conceals much more than any Cherbourg observer could imagine.

All the ships in Mozambique


In the foreground, former President Armando Guebuza and his then French counterpart, François Hollande, in Cherbourg, September 2013. In the background, Iskandar Safa, boss of Privinvest. It’s a story of staggering bribes and a debt of nearly $2 billion that Maputo is unable to pay back. It is a story of French ships, Swiss bankers, and Lebanese intermediaries, which has finally been brought to justice, but which is far from having revealed all its secrets.

Armando Guebuza is all smiles. In a dark blue suit and red tie, the Mozambican president stands proudly under the ceiling of the Constructions Mécaniques de Normandie (CMN) hangar in Cherbourg. At his side, François Hollande does not hide his satisfaction. The two heads of state are holding up two trophies of sheet metal cut from what will soon be used to build the ships ordered by Mozambique from the French shipbuilding company. One man with a tanned complexion is still holding on to them: Iskandar Safa, the boss of Privinvest, the shipyards’ parent company.

This Beirut-born Franco-Lebanese billionaire, who was close to former spy and high ranking Corsican official Jean-Charles Marchiani in the 1980s, has been frequenting French business circles for decades. On September 30, 2013, he is savoring his victory. Valued at more than 200 million euros, the order placed with CMN – 24 fishing boats and six patrol boats – allows Hollande to announce the safeguarding of the shipyard.

Back in early 2011. François Hollande is not yet a presidential candidate. Dominique Strauss-Kahn is the favorite in the race for the Élysée and heads an IMF that is closely monitoring Armando Guebuza’s Mozambique, in power since 2005. The country’s economy is a success story, with growth rates of around 7%. In 2005 and 2006, the IMF canceled part of its debt, followed by China in 2007. Maputo is attracting interest, particularly in the shipbuilding sector. Lebanese Jean Boustani, the chief trader of Privinvest, is among those interested. Like his boss, Iskandar Safa, who has made him his most trusted man, this tall, dark-haired man with a ready smile knows nothing of Guebuza’s ambitions.

The Mozambican president wants to equip his country with a fleet of fishing vessels and, more unofficially, with coastal surveillance equipment. His objective: to obtain financing via bank loans, despite the safeguards imposed by the IMF. This is where Boustani’s networks come into play. In contact with people close to the intelligence services and the Guebuza presidency, they claimed to be able to ensure the construction of the fleet, but also to obtain the approval of several banks. Negotiations are underway. According to the American justice system, which would take up the case a few years later, they immediately went awry.

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