The Mozambican attorney general is to appeal the acquittal of LAM - Linhas Aéreas de Moçambique former chairman Jose Viegas in the corruption case in which Embraer paid USD800,000 in bribes to secure the sale of two E190s to the state carrier in 2009.

Embraer had paid the bribe, disguised as sales commissions, in two instalments of USD400,000 into a front company. The manufacturer declined to comment when contacted by ch-aviation.

This comes after the Maputo City Court earlier this week sentenced to 10-years imprisonment former Transport Minister Paulo Zucula and Mateus Zimba, the former representative in Mozambique of South African petro-chemical giant Sasol, who acted as a middleman in the deal.

Viegas was acquitted, in part, because there was insufficient evidence against him, and in part, because the statute of limitations had expired on illicit business participation, the crime of which he was accused. According to documents from the Brazilian Federal Prosecutor's Office, Viegas had negotiated the amount of the bribe, although there was no evidence that he had taken any money himself.

However, Mozambique's attorney-general aims to contest the court's understanding of the statute of limitations, his office said in a statement.

As reported previously, the case follows a joint Brazilian federal prosecution service and US Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation in 2016, which found that Embraer had paid millions of dollars in bribes to government officials in Mozambique, the Dominican Republic, and Saudi Arabia in order to secure aircraft order contracts. The Brazilian manufacturer agreed to pay both regulators USD225 million as part of a global settlement and giving full details of the bribes.

The prosecution in the Mozambican case said the accused had used the LAM purchase of Embraer aircraft to enrich themselves. Zimba, who had no prior connection with LAM or with civil aviation, had set up a shell company called "Xihivele", registered in São Tomé and Príncipe, through which the bribe money was channelled.

On April 22, 2009, Embraer had signed a "commercial representation agreement" with Xihevele. The stated purpose of this company was to promote the sale of aircraft to LAM, even though LAM had already signed the purchase agreement. Xihevele had not existed during the negotiations between LAM and Embraer.

The court also sentenced Zucula and Zimba to pay the Mozambican state compensation of MZN70.7 million meticais (USD1.1 million). This sum, the court said, reflected not only the USD800,000 bribe but also the damage done to Mozambique's international reputation.

Real estate and money frozen in bank accounts confiscated from Zucula and Zimba will now revert to the state.

The defence lawyers of both men indicated they will appeal against the sentencing.

Editorial Comment: Updated with attorney-general to appeal the acquittal of Viegas. - 16.09.2021 - 13:21 UTC