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Credit Suisse, Mozambique secure out-of-court 'tuna bond' settlement

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Credit Suisse is seen outside its office building in Hong Kong

By Noele Illien and Kirstin Ridley

ZURICH (Reuters) -Credit Suisse has reached an 11th-hour out-of-court settlement with Mozambique over the decade-old $1.5 billion-plus "tuna bond" scandal, the Swiss bank's new owner UBS said on Sunday, drawing a line under a damaging dispute it inherited.

"The parties have mutually released each other from any liabilities and claims relating to the transactions," UBS said in a statement. "The parties are pleased to have resolved this long-running dispute," it added without giving further details.

Under the deal, struck one day before a three-month London civil trial was due to start, UBS will forgive part of a loan that Credit Suisse made to Mozambique in 2013, representing less than $100 million, said one source familiar with the situation, who declined to be named because the terms are not public.

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In Maputo, the Mozambican Attorney General's Office and Ministry of Economy and Finance said they were calling a joint news conference for Monday morning.

The tuna bond case dates back to deals between state-owned Mozambican companies and shipbuilder Privinvest - funded in part by loans and bonds from Credit Suisse and backed by undisclosed Mozambican government guarantees in 2013 and 2014 - ostensibly to develop the fishing industry and for maritime security.

But hundreds of millions of dollars went missing and, when the government debt came to light in 2016, donors such as the International Monetary Fund temporarily halted support, triggering a currency collapse, defaults and financial turmoil.

The settlement included most of the creditors involved in funding a 2013 loan to ProIndicus, a state-owned Mozambican company, UBS said.

DRAWING A LINE

UBS, which took over scandal-scarred Credit Suisse amid turmoil in the global banking sector earlier this year, has pledged to resolve Credit Suisse's legacy legal disputes.

Since completing the mega merger on June 12, it has paid $388 million to U.S. and British regulators over dealings with collapsed private investment firm Archegos Capital Management and settled a dispute with a finance blog.

The latest settlement leaves French shipping mogul Iskandar Safa and his Privinvest group among key remaining defendants in a High Court battle over the funding and maritime deals that have already triggered U.S. and Mozambican criminal proceedings.

Mozambique has alleged it was the victim of a conspiracy and that Privinvest paid bribes to corrupt Mozambican officials and Credit Suisse bankers, exposing the country to a potential liability of at least $2 billion.

Privinvest has alleged it delivered on all of its obligations under the contracts and that any payments it made were either investments, consultancy payments, legitimate remuneration or legitimate political campaign contributions.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

NYUSI IMMUNITY

In another twist to the complex case, Privinvest on Friday secured permission to appeal against a London High Court decision to grant Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi immunity from the proceedings. Privinvest has argued that if it is found liable, Nyusi should contribute to any damages.

Officials in the Maputo government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Court of Appeal Judge Elizabeth Laing said it was now up to the trial judge to grant any applications for adjournment, a decision seen by Reuters over the weekend showed.

In 2021, Credit Suisse agreed to pay about $475 million to British and U.S. authorities to resolve bribery and fraud charges and has pledged to forgive $200 million of debt owed by Mozambique.

It has alleged three former bankers, who arranged the bonds and have pleaded guilty in the United States to handling kickbacks, hid their misconduct from the bank.

(Writing by Kirstin Ridley, Additional reporting by Oliver Hirt in Zurich, Manuel Mucari in Maputo and Nqobile Dludla in Johannesburg; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)