/ 20 November 2009

Dubious liaisons

The Moseneke family has Congolese oil rights, which were facilitated by an alleged fraudster extraordinaire.

Nozi Mwamba, the facilitator who helped pave the way for the Moseneke family’s Encha Group to obtain Congolese oil concessions, is wanted in France on charges that he was key to a multibillion-rand currency swindle.

Judge Dikgang Moseneke’s general reply (PDF)

Anthea Brown’s full reply on behalf of Mwamba (PDF)

Mwamba, who lives in South Africa and his native Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), denies the charges, but has not returned to attend a trial under way in Paris.

The severity of the charges against Mwamba — it is reported to be one of the largest currency counterfeiting operations ever — underscores the problem, reported by the Mail & Guardian last week, of Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke’s exposure to controversy through his investment in the Encha Group.

Moseneke controls 18% of Encha through his family trust. He has denied that the investment undermines his judicial independence, saying he has “served as a judge diligently, with integrity and with the full observance of the law and judicial ethics”. There is no suggestion that he was personally aware of Mwamba’s role.

The alleged counterfeit operation involved the 1998 printing of 140-million dinars, supposedly for the official use of the Bahraini government. A French indictment against Mwamba and others gives the face value as $360-million (R2.7-billion now) — more than the whole issued currency of the small emirate.

The tale of how an established Argentinian banknote printer, Ciccone Calcographica, was apparently conned into printing nearly eight tonnes of “real” fake banknotes by a group of individuals purporting to represent the Bahrain monetary agency is set out in the indictment.

Mwamba, also known as Nozy Richard Mouamba Mounanga, is listed as accused number six. The indictment, issued in December 2007, confirmed he was still the subject of an international arrest warrant issued in March 2000 and ordered he stand trial.

The indictment claims it was Mwamba who served as an intermediary, introducing the purported official Bahraini representatives to Ciccone, the printer. One of those claimed to be a special representative of the Bahrain monetary agency was actually a Bahraini taxi driver.

Once printed, the dinars were transported on three flights from Argentina, which Mwamba helped arrange, but not to Bahrain. Two flights delivered banknotes to Chad and one to Niger in May and June 1998. Soon the dinars were being changed in, among other places, Belgium and France, which led to the alleged scam being uncovered.

In June 1998 the Thomas Cook foreign exchange agency in Paris raised suspicions about an attempt to change fake dinars for about 600000 French francs. Two days later Paris police arrested six people in two vehicles loading heavy bags of counterfeit notes. Mwamba was implicated in the alleged laundering of the notes.

He was arrested in Zurich in November 1999 on an international warrant issued by a Belgian magistrate. The indictment states that he was carrying a Belgian passport in the name of “Paul Bonga Bonga” and admitted also to using the identity “Richard Beya”, resident of Cameroon.

It says he claimed at the time that the printing was legal and the dinars had been ordered by the Bahrain authorities.

According to media reports he was extradited to Belgium, but allegedly absconded to South Africa using a fake identity after being granted bail.

In South Africa, Mwamba had already established himself — he had set up a local company, Sub-Congo Trading, in July 1998, only a month after the Thomas Cook incident in Paris. Soon afterwards he also registered a Johannesburg nightclub and restaurant, Sankayi.

Mwamba is not the only person absent from the Paris courtroom. A central suspect in the affair, Hicham Mandari, was assassinated in Spain in August 2004 after he had been extradited from the United States two years earlier.

Mandari, who claimed to be the illegitimate son of the late King Hassan II of Morocco, told investigators he had been introduced to Mwamba by Sheik Hamad, the Bahrain defence minister.

At different times he claimed that the scheme had been intended to destabilise the Bahrain government either at the behest of rival factions in the royal family or at the instigation of Iranian intelligence. Either way, a single bullet to the back of the neck at point blank range put paid to his evidence.

Another accused who could give evidence — but implicating one of France’s African allies — is also absent, though he indicated to the court his willingness to travel to Paris. Hassan Fadoul, described as a former special adviser to Chadian President Idriss Déby, stated during the investigation that the operation was partly initiated with the backing of Déby to finance his election campaign.

Fadoul alleged that Mwamba had contacted Déby in 1996 with a proposal to print false francs to fund his campaign.

Fadoul, who is in exile in Togo, was denied an entry visa by the French authorities despite his willingness to stand trial. The Paris trial is set down to continue until December 2.

Mwamba, through his associate Andrea Brown, this week denied all allegations against him. It was Brown’s Divine Inspiration Group, with Mwamba’s help, which negotiated two DRC oil blocks now co-owned by Encha Group, in 2007 and early 2008.

Brown said: “The allegations about the nature of Mwamba’s involvement [in the alleged counterfeiting] are incorrect — he was not involved in trying to change any Bahrain dinars, he had no relationship with any representatives of the Bahrain monetary authority.”

Mwamba, she said, was an official representative of Ciccone, the printer — implying that he was merely carrying out instructions in what he thought to be an above-board printing order. “This was confirmed by a high court decision in Belgium in December 2008, which found the case against more than 20 individuals including Mwamba foundationless, issuing a not guilty verdict.”

Brown confirmed, however, that the Belgian verdict was being appealed by the prosecution. She denied Mwamba had skipped bail in Belgium as reported, saying his departure had been “formally authorised”.

She claimed Mwamba had “no knowledge of a French indictment in 2007. He is aware of a warrant in 1998, but as a result of the procedure already under way in Belgium, European law requires the Belgium proceedings to take precedence.”

Brown also emphasised that her company “has had absolutely no contact or relationship with Dikgang Moseneke neither directly nor indirectly and in all my interactions with Encha Group I have never come across him”.