By Matthew Theunissen for RNZ

New Zealand man Andrew Pearse has admitted taking millions of dollars in kickbacks as part of a multi-billion dollar scandal that threatened to bankrupt the poor African nation of Mozambique.

In their indictments, US prosecutors portray Pearse as one of the ringleaders of the multi-national fraud, which has also implicated the country's former finance minister and about 20 others.

Bloomberg reported that Pearse, a London-based former Credit Suisse banker, pleaded guilty to wire fraud in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, on Friday.

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It's unclear whether Pearse is co-operating with US prosecutors as his plea agreement and all other related records were placed under seal.

Andrew Pearse has admitted taking millions of dollars in kickbacks as part of a multi-billion dollar scandal. Photo / Getty Images
Andrew Pearse has admitted taking millions of dollars in kickbacks as part of a multi-billion dollar scandal. Photo / Getty Images

Prosecutors claimed that Pearse and his associates skimmed at least $US200 million ($NZ296m) from secret $2 billion loans, purportedly made to fund dubious maritime projects in Mozambique.

The $US45 million paid to Pearse is the largest sum received by any of the individuals named in the indictment.

Pearse, 49, has previously owned two properties in Christchurch, both of which were last sold on the same day in 2013 - the year the alleged fraud began.

The properties are now owned by a company whose title matches his initials - AJP Trustee Services - and another individual.

Speaking to RNZ from Mozambique's capital Maputo in January, Jorge Matine from Mozambican financial watchdog, the Budget Monitoring Forum, said United States prosecutors appeared to be alleging Pearse was one of the ringleaders of the scam.

"He's one of the masterminds of this scheme [of] corruption and illegal debt.

"The financial institutions and the bankers are not accountable so they can even create schemes that can destroy an economy and put people in a very difficult situation - a country in a very difficult situation."

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Mr Matine was among those celebrating after US prosecutors filed their indictment.

"I was in a local pub and people started cheering and clapping. [People were saying], 'we've been fighting for five years. I don't have a job, I had to close down my company because of this. There's no business around'.

"So I'm very happy that now is a new beginning."

According to the indictment filed in New York's Eastern District Court, the loans were given by two London-based banks - Credit Suisse and VTB - to three state-owned companies in Mozambique.

The loans were guaranteed by the country's government but never signed off by the Parliament.

The indictment says the money was never transferred to Mozambique but to Privinvest in Abu Dhabi.

From there, kickbacks and bribes were allegedly paid to officials in Mozambique, executives from Privinvest, and the London-based bankers.

Mozambique's Attorney General Office has also indicted at least 18 citizens in connection with the fraud, including the country's former finance minister Manuel Chang.

Mozambique, one of the most indebted countries in the world, admitted in 2016 to undisclosed lending, prompting the International Monetary Fund and foreign donors to cut off support and triggering a currency collapse and a default on its sovereign debt.

Tim Jones from the Jubilee Debt Campaign, which advocates for debt relief in developing countries, said the scandal was the trigger for Mozambique's continuing debt crisis.

"When the scandal first erupted it caused the value of the Mozambique currency to halve against the dollar.

"That meant that imports into the country doubled in price and Mozambique is dependent on imports for many basic necessities like medicines and some foodstuffs."

The government has already defaulted on its repayments of the $2bn loan and Mr Jones said the people of Mozambique shouldn't have to pay it back.

"The Mozambique people should not have to pay a single cent on these debts that they have no say over and receive no benefit from.

"And those holders of the debts, who feel they've been wronged by Credit Suisse and VTB when they were sold the debts, should pursue them for the money and the individuals who benefited."

- RNZ