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On a quiet street in a leafy neighbourhood of Maputo last week, a car with no licence plates screeched to a halt beside a 15-year-old boy who was walking home. Three well-dressed men, brandishing knives, jumped out and advanced on him threateningly, demanding to know where to find his brother.

The boy said his brother was in France – the first country that occurred to him. The attackers grabbed his cellphone and drove away. “We know who your brother is,” they said. “Tell him not to get into trouble or any situations where he is not invited.”

It was another warning of growing danger for his brother, Edson Cortez, one of Mozambique’s most courageous and persistent anti-corruption activists.

Mr. Cortez has no doubt that the attack was directly related to his campaign against a corruption scheme in which US$200-million in kickbacks were allegedly paid to top politicians and officials in exchange for secret illegal loans.

For weeks, a trial in New York has been exposing the disturbing details of the vast US$2-billion debt scandal.

The Mozambique government has managed to limit the coverage of the case in state-controlled media, but Mr. Cortez and his supporters have refused to be intimidated.

“We are shocked and outraged by the threats and harassment directed towards Edson Cortez and his family,” said a statement by Patricia Moreira, managing director of Transparency International, a global anti-corruption organization.

Mozambique, one of the poorest countries in the world, has lost several billion dollars to official corruption over the past two decades, according to estimates by Transparency International and other analysts.

Despite the threats from the knife-wielding men, Mr. Cortez is pushing ahead with his campaign. On Friday, he wrote to Mozambique’s Attorney-General, Beatriz Buchili, requesting a criminal investigation and providing complete transcripts of each day of the New York trial.

“None of them can say they’re not corrupt now,” he said in an interview.

He plans to hold a news conference on Monday in Maputo to provide the same information to the media. Then he plans to leave the country for a week – for his own safety.

He hopes the court transcripts will shame the government into action. “Now they’ll have no excuses to avoid prosecutions.”

Earlier this year, Mr. Cortez and his organization, the Centre for Public Integrity (CIP), distributed T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “I won’t pay for hidden debts” – a reference to the kickbacks scandal. They encouraged people to post videos on social media, showing them wearing the T-shirts.

The ruling party, Frelimo, was infuriated by the T-shirt campaign. Frelimo supporters went on social media to issue death threats to a CIP researcher, Fatima Mimbire, who was leading the T-shirt campaign. A Frelimo member of parliament, Alice Tomas, said Ms. Mimbire should be raped by 10 men “to teach her a lesson.” Police surrounded the CIP office for three days, confiscating the T-shirts from anyone who wore them.

Court evidence has shown that Mozambican politicians and officials were paid kickbacks in exchange for approving US$2-billion in government-guaranteed loans, which were concealed from official budgets. The loans to state-controlled companies were officially intended for a tuna fishing fleet and other purposes, but much of the money was instead spent on weapons for state security agencies, or simply disappeared into non-existent projects.

When the loans were finally disclosed in 2016, the scandal triggered Mozambique’s worst-ever financial crisis. Foreign donors and the International Monetary Fund halted their aid to Mozambique, the currency collapsed and the country fell into a debt crisis, including a loan default.

Three former Credit Suisse bankers have pleaded guilty to criminal charges in connection with the corruption case, admitting to paying kickbacks. A former Mozambique finance minister, Manuel Chang, was arrested in South Africa a year ago, and the United States is seeking his extradition for his role in the scheme.

At the trial in New York over the past several weeks, Lebanese ship-building executive Jean Boustani was acquitted of U.S. charges in the Mozambique case. But evidence at the trial showed that huge payments had been made to senior politicians.

One e-mail from 2014, disclosed at the trial, showed that US$7-million was allocated to “Chopstick” and US$2-million to “Nuy.” The trial heard that “Chopstick” was a code name for Mr. Chang, while “Nuy” was a code name for Filipe Nyusi, who is now Mozambique’s president.

At the trial, Mr. Boustani insisted that the payments were not bribes, but were merely contributions to the election campaigns of the politicians. He said a further US$4-million was given to Frelimo itself, while tens of millions of dollars were also given to other officials, business people and fixers.

Mr. Cortez dispatched one of his CIP colleagues to New York to follow the trial, and they soon reported the kickbacks. “Now we can see that all of them are involved,” he said.

For nearly a year, Frelimo has been trying to shut him up. But Mr. Cortez insists he will keep exposing corruption at Mozambique’s highest levels.

“If you want to kill the snake,” he says, “you need to hit the head.”

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