The Mozambican government has been placed in a tight corner by the addition of Mohamed Bachir Suleman to the United States treasury department’s list of drug kingpins.
Suleman is a rich Mozambican businessman with close ties to the ruling Frelimo party. Marcelo Mosse, the director of the Centre for Public Integrity (CIP) , said: ‘Suleman is a member of the party’s central committee and has supported Frelimo by donating millions of dollars to it, including during last year’s election campaign.
‘If the American accusations against Suleman are correct, Frelimo has most likely been sponsored by drug money. This leaves the party with a lot to explain. The donors will perhaps begin to question whether they are financing a state that is indirectly involved in the narcotics trade.”
Last week US President Barack Obama accused Suleman, known in his country as ‘MBS”, of being a ‘largescale drug trafficker in Mozambique”. Under the so-called Kingpin Act, the treasury’s sanctions were imposed on Suleman’s three businesses, the MBS Group, the Kayum Centre and the Maputo Shopping Centre.
In a press release the US treasury described the businesses as ‘specially designated narcotics traffickers — owned or controlled by Suleman”. Under US law any assets the businesses have are frozen and US citizens are barred from dealing with them.
The treasury claimed that Suleman and his network were contributing to the growing narcotics trade and related money laundering in Southern Africa. For years Mozambique has been known as a transfer country for drugs such as cocaine, hashish, marijuana and Mandrax smuggled from India and Pakistan through the country’s ports to South Africa and Europe.
Suleman, a holder of five Mozambican passports with various spellings of his name, has rejected the accusations and said he is innocent. Mosse urged the Mozambican government to request the US to provide the evidence it had against Suleman to enable local authorities to act if necessary.
‘It’s a matter of honour and the only thing Mozambican President [Armando] Guebuza can do to protect our dignity,” he said. ‘The government’s handling of this case will be a big test of its oft-declared but seldom-realised commitment to good governance and fighting corruption. This commitment has suffered a severe blow with Suleman’s case.”
But Augusto Paulino, Mozambique’s attorney general, announced last Friday that he would launch an inquiry into the matter. Mosse said the least that could be hoped for was that ‘it will lead to a more open debate in Frelimo, which never reveals internal power struggles are taking place”.
‘Perhaps the honest wing of Frelimo will now call for measures to be taken against Suleman,” he said. Mosse said Suleman had hired Máximo Dias from the opposing Renamo party as his legal representative.
‘Dias managed to have 10 Pakistani and Indian workers released in 1995 after they had been arrested for producing Mandrax in Matola outside Maputo,” he said. ‘They were poor people who could never have aff orded a lawyer. One can only guess who paid him.”
- Meanwhile, Obama also designated Ousmane Conte, a son of the late Guinea president Lansana Conte, as a ‘drug kingpin”. Conte has been jailed by the military junta in his country. In an interview from prison last year he acknowledged playing a role in drug trafficking in Guinea . But, he said that despite his involvement he was not a ringleader, and asked for the forgiveness of the Guinean people.
- Gambian police, after a joint investigation with British detectives, seized 2.5 tonnes of cocaine bound for Europe and arrested a dozen suspected traffickers, a security source said on Tuesday. The cocaine, which has an estimated street value of around $1-billion, was found hidden in a warehouse outside The Gambia’s capital, Banjul.
Who is Mohamed Bachir Suleman?
Mohamed Bachir Suleman (52) started out as a small-scale entrepreneur selling capulanas (a cloth worn by women) in his native province of Nampula in northern Mozambique. Profiting from the country’s tumultuous transition from a state to a market economy in the 1990s, he became a major player in Mozambican business while developing strong ties with Frelimo.
His Maputo Shopping Centre, built at a cost of $32-million , was inaugurated in October 2007 by President Armando Guebuza, after whom the square in front of the centre was named. Frelimo was also granted free space for a merchandising outlet in the centre, although other shop owners pay sky-high rates.
Cementing his relations with Frelimo, Suleman bought two pipes from Guebuza at an astronomical price and the money was used to finance a Frelimo congress in Quelimane. One consequence, say observers, is that Suleman’s sources of income are never questioned and his containers are not inspected when they reach the port of Maputo.
‘This is known by all Mozambicans, but nobody has dared to speak out about these matters in public. That is why the move by the Americans was a good one,” said Marcelo Mosse, the director of Centre for Public Integrity.
Henrik Lomholt Rasmussen is the information officer for Action Aid Mozambique and the Danish Association for International Cooperation