LAM - Linhas Aéreas de Moçambique (TM, Maputo) has launched an internal investigation after discovering that around USD3.2 million vanished from a number of its ticket sales points during December, the carrier’s director of restructuring, Sérgio Matos, revealed at a press conference in Maputo.

The company is currently tracking the movement of funds from its various point of sale (POS) terminals to identify how and where the cash was diverted.

“Two weeks ago we launched an operation to find out where the money is going. We’re selling more, but the company isn’t getting all the money,” he said on February 12, as quoted by Portugal’s LUSA News Agency and the Mozambique News Agency. He added that “we’re working quickly with LAM’s internal security and have collected almost all the POSs, and starting with 20 ticket points of sale, by Sunday we had collected 81 POSs.”

In what he branded a scheme of embezzlement, he explained that “in the last three months of evaluations we saw that the difference we were having was in the order of USD2 million or USD3 million. In December alone, there was a deficit of USD3.2 million.”

Matos also said that inspections had revealed suspicious cases even when collecting cash in stores.

“The collection of cash is done by security companies,” he said. “When we tried to find out, at LAM points of sale, how it is done and when they receive it, it was found that sometimes the deposit was made three days later, which means that money is collected from the company and then it is stored somewhere for two or three days, and only after that comes the borderô” - a statement of credits and debits.

Matos further said that his team had discovered a LAM account in Malawi with USD1.2 million to which no one in the company appeared to have access. In addition, there have been cases of employees “who use or have used company funds to buy their own homes. When these employees are contacted, each comes up with an excuse, and we believe that this may be the same group that uses the media to deliberately portray the company in a bad light.”

Fuel anomalies

State-owned LAM has been under a process of restructuring over the last year or so and has spoken of fleet renewal ahead of intercontinental and cargo operations. The restructuring team is working as part of a planned revitalisation under Fly Modern Ark, a South African company that took over the management of the Mozambican airline in April 2023 and of which Matos is a part. Since then, LAM’s debt levels have been declining.

Matos said that other inspections had found anomalies in the supply of jet fuel. “If an aircraft has fuel capacity for around 80,000 litres, in the documents the same aircraft is being fuelled at 95,000. So the question is, where are the remaining 15,000?” he asked.

LAM was forced to delay multiple flights on February 11 as it faced fuel shortages, local media reported. The airline’s restructuring team and suppliers disagree on who is responsible for the situation and what its exact cause is, but the carrier and Mozambique’s state-owned petroleum company, Petromoc, agree that LAM has a USD70 million debt to the supplier.

Following the flight delays that left many passengers stranded, independent broadcaster STV reported that LAM owes MZN600 million meticals (USD9.4 million) to Petromoc, another MZN42 million (USD657,000) to Puma Energy, and USD27,000 for fuel to Harare International.

However, Matos maintained at the press conference that there was no problem with payments and that there was instead a “lack of fuel from the supplier.” He also said that since December, LAM has owed only Petromoc and not any other fuel supplier. Meanwhile, Petromoc denies it ran out of fuel on Sunday and declined responsibility for the delays.

On February 14, the senior management of LAM wrote a letter to Mozambique’s Minister of Transport and Communications, Mateus Magala, distancing themselves from the statements made by Matos and Fly Modern Ark and denying that certain LAM managers had been involved in embezzlement or sabotage.

None of the parties involved were available for comment to ch-aviation.