Maputo — The Maputo Higher Appeals Court (TSR) has upheld the verdict of the Maputo City Court which found Setina Titosse, the former chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Agricultural Development Fund (FDA) guilty of the theft of 170 million meticais between 2012 and 2015 (about 5.6 million US dollars, at the exchange rate of the time).
Titosse was accused of involvement in approving fictitious agricultural projects. Since most of these did not exist or were only partly implemented, the money was later transferred to private bank accounts.
At the trial, in late 2017, Titosse and her 23 co-defendants faced 355 charges including corruption, money laundering, embezzlement, abuse of power, and payment of undue remunerations. Ten companies were used to obtain illicit advantages, most of which were operating in the commercial domain, unrelated to the purpose of the FDA.
None of the projects which the fraudsters approved met the minimum requirements laid down by the FDA. These included, for example, proof that the project had access to the land required, a business plan, proof of payment of taxes, and invoices or quotations for the goods to be purchased. None of the projects that formed part of the fraud met these requirements.
The Maputo court sentenced Titosse to 18 years imprisonment, and 24 of her co-defendants to prison terms ranging from 12 months to 12 years.
But they lodged appeals – and these had the effect of suspending the sentences. The wheels of justice still grind very slowly in Mozambique, and it was not until last week that the TSR reconsidered the case. Its ruling, dated last Friday, backed the initial court findings. The only significant change is that it reduced the prison sentence for Titosse from 18 to 16 years.
The delay in hearing the appeal gave Titosse three and a half years to enjoy whatever remained of her ill-gotten gains. Despite the damning evidence against her, Titosse became something of a celebrity. She addressed meetings, and in March 2019 she was the main speaker at a lecture on business, where she described herself simply as “a manager”.
The TSR confirmed the 12 year sentence imposed on Titosse’s main accomplice, Milda Cossa. The shorter sentences for the other defendants were converted into fines.
The saga may not be over yet – Titosse could still appeal to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, however, rules on matters of law and not of fact. Were it to find in favour of Titosse, it would effectively be declaring that both the Maputo City Court and the Higher Appeals Court are ignorant of the law.