On Thursday, Mozambique’s former Labour Minister Maria Helena Taipo was sentenced to 16 years in prison on charges of corruption, including diverting $1.7 million (113 million meticals) from public funds.
The funds were allegedly used to attend to personal expenses such as building a house, 50 bicycles, end-of-year hampers, parties, and so on between 2014 and 2015.
Taipo was a member of the ruling Frelimo party which led the Labour ministry from 2005 to 2014 under President Armando Guebuza.
She also served as governor of Sofala, the country’s central province, and was later appointed as Mozambique’s ambassador to Angola under current President Filipe Nyusi.
Taipo’s appointment was terminated amidst corruption investigations against her.
She was sentenced alongside three of her accomplices, who received similar sentences. They were charged with crimes of embezzlement, breach of trust, abuse of power, and economic participation in business and forgery of documents.
According to Mozambique’s Jornal Noticias, the three of them were former national director migrant labour Anastacia Zitha, former head of finance department Jose Monjane, and former coordinator of the mineworker’s project Pedro Taimo.
The court also ordered them to repay the embezzled funds.
Five other government officials were handed 12-year sentences for embezzlement, while two officials were found innocent of charges levied against them.
Maputo City Court Judge Evandra Uamasse said she had given Taipo a maximum sentence as “a deterrent measure”.
"The court is required to have an attitude of firmness and severity in order to discourage the repetition of this type of conduct," said Uamasse. “We must prevent any repetition of such acts.”
She also cited Taipo’s lack of remorse. During the trial which lasted two months, Taipo made claims like “I did nothing” and “What I did was for the good of the institution”.
Judge Uamasse said they (Taipo and her accomplices) had breached public trust “driven by the desire for effortless gain”.
During the trial, the court heard that the Labour Ministry and the directorate officials working with private companies had signed fraudulent documents and banded together with a scheme to misappropriate public funds.
The defendants were also accused of ignoring proper protocol for withdrawing from the directorate accounts, diverting money to personal accounts, and issuing fraudulent invoices and receipts for fake events.
Taipo was particularly accused of authorising fake payments which the court found to have allowed for the embezzlement of funds.
Taipo’s lawyer, Inacio Matinshe claimed that Taipo “acted within her powers, authorizing payments to enable the projects previously programmed in the 2013 Economic and Social Plan”.
The defence also asserted that there was no evidence that public funds were used to build Taipo’s house, to which the judge agreed. The ownership of the house and its location had not been proven.
Matinshe has said she will appeal the decision. The defence has 20 days to appeal against the court’s verdict and sentence.
Sources: Club of Mozambique, BBC.