Mozambique president Nyusi has immunity in London 'tuna bond' case, court rules

FILE PHOTO: U.S.-Africa Business Forum at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington D.C

LONDON (Reuters) - Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi cannot be sued in Britain over allegations he accepted unlawful payments in the country's lawsuit against Credit Suisse and others over the $2 billion "tuna bond" scandal, London's High Court ruled on Monday.

The tuna bond or "hidden debt" case has triggered criminal investigations from Maputo to New York, plus a series of linked lawsuits in London involving Credit Suisse, shipbuilder Privinvest, its owner Iskandar Safa and many others.

Privinvest and Safa tried to drag Nyusi into the case, arguing he should contribute to any damages they may be ordered to pay if they are found liable to Mozambique.

Their claim against Nyusi focused on payments of $11 million they say Privinvest made in 2014 to fund Nyusi's successful run for president and his ruling Frelimo party's election campaign.

Privinvest and Safa argued that if the payments were not lawful and they are liable to Mozambique then Nyusi should be liable to them.

However, Judge Robin Knowles said in a written ruling on Monday that Nyusi "has immunity from the jurisdiction of this court whilst he is head of state of the republic".

No one in Nyusi's office was immediately available to comment.

The decision comes ahead of a months-long trial due to start on Oct. 3, at which Mozambique will seek to revoke a sovereign guarantee on a loan it alleges was corruptly procured and secure compensation for other alleged wrongdoing.

The long-running dispute is focused on three deals between state-owned companies and Privinvest, ostensibly to develop Mozambique's fishing industry and for maritime security.

The deals were funded in part by loans and bonds from Credit Suisse – since taken over by UBS – and backed by undisclosed Mozambican government guarantees.

But hundreds of millions of dollars went missing and, when the state loan guarantees became public in 2016, donors such as the International Monetary Fund halted support, triggering a currency collapse, debt crisis and years of litigation.

(Reporting by Sam Tobin; Additional reporting by Manuel Mucari in Maputo; Editing by Kylie MacLellan and Angus MacSwan)