Zambia’s new president has said he inherited an “empty” treasury, noting that “horrifying” amounts of money had been stolen.
President Hakainde Hichilema, who was sworn in after last month’s historic election, said this in an interview.
Mr Hichilema won the election on a promise to tackle corruption and to end the financial and economic crisis that has seen Zambia’s debt ballooning.
The new president described the treasury as “literally empty”.
He added that the “hole is much bigger than we expected” and the debt situation had not been “fully disclosed” by the former government.
“There’s a lot of damage, unfortunately,” Mr Hichilema told the BBC.
“People are still trying to make last-minute movements of funds, which are unauthorised, which are not theirs.”
He added that his government would show “zero tolerance” towards corruption, and would get to the bottom of what he called the illicit movement of funds very soon.
“I don’t want to pre-empt things but what we are picking [up] is horrifying,” the president said.
“You’ll feel nobody can do a thing like that but it’s being done. People have done it. They are still trying to do things now.”
Mr Hichilema also said there were “a lot of people who are not working, but are on the payroll” of the government.
He defeated his rival Edgar Lungu in presidential elections last month after five failed attempts.
Mr Hichilema did not name any officials. Mr Lungu has previously denied all wrongdoing.
Zambia owed foreign lenders an estimated $12bn (£8.6bn), previous reports said.
It spends at least 30% of its revenue on interest payments, according to credit ratings firm S&P Global.
Last year, Zambia missed an interest repayment, making it the first African country to default on a loan during the pandemic.
It is also facing difficulties repaying other loans.
The former government had borrowed heavily – including from China – to build infrastructure.