Five on trial for Carlos Cardoso murder

Five of the six people accused of murdering Mozambique’s best-known journalist, Carlos Cardoso, go on trial before the Maputo City Court on Monday.

The trial begins almost exactly two years after Cardoso, owner and editor of the independent fax daily Metical, was gunned down on a central Maputo street on November 22 2000.

Three of the accused, Ayob Abdul Satar, his brother Momade Assife “Nini” Abdul Satar and Vicente Ramaya, are said to have ordered and paid for the assassination.

The other three—Anibal dos Santos Junior (“Anibalzinho”), Manuel Fernandes and Carlitos Rachid Cassamo—are said to have carried out the murder.

The Abdul Satars own various businesses, including the chain of Unicambios currency exchange houses in Maputo, while Ramaya is a former branch manager in what was then the country’s largest bank, the Banco Comercial de Mozambique (BCM).

Ramaya and the Abdul Satar family are also accused of masterminding a huge banking fraud in which the equivalent of R140-million was siphoned out of the BCM on the eve of its privatisation in 1996.

Members of the Abdul Satar family allegedly opened fraudulent accounts at Ramaya’s BCM branch. Dud cheques were deposited and real money taken out.

The case never reached court, thanks to corruption inside the attorney general’s office.
The Abdul Satar brothers’ parents and their younger brother, Asslam, fled to Dubai, from where Asslam wrote a letter admitting his part in the fraud, but claiming that other, more senior banking figures were also involved.

Among those who tirelessly pursued the case were the BCM’s lawyer, Albano Silva—and Cardoso.

It became clear that they had entered dangerous territory when, in November 1999, an attempt was made on Silva’s life. A bullet was fired through the open window of his car, missing him by centimetres.

Undeterred, Cardoso published the names of the Abdul Satars and Ramaya in his paper, demanding that they be brought to justice. He also started investigating other unsavoury aspects of the Abdul Satar empire—including their loans to other members of the Asian community at usurious interest rates and private wire-taps.

According to the prosecution, Anibalzinho was paid to organise the hit squad and drove the car. But Anibalzinho will not be in the dock on Monday. On September 1 he disappeared from Maputo’s top security jail.

“Escape” seems altogether too energetic a word to describe what happened: he dug no tunnels, cut through no bars. Somebody just unlocked the three padlocks on his cell door and out he walked.

Since then Anibalzinho has phoned one of his main adversaries, Antonio Frangoulis, former head of the Maputo Criminal Investigation Police, issuing death threats against the policeman and his family.

Anibalzinho’s business was trafficking in luxury cars between South Africa and Mozambique. It is suspected that he may be holed up in South Africa, under the protection of South African criminals.

The other two alleged members of the hit squad are Fernandes and Cassamo. Fernandes confessed to the murder—but later withdrew his confession.

Cassamo was identified by Metical staff as the mysterious client who came round to the paper regularly in the weeks preceding the murder, always buying single copies with inconvenient large banknotes, forcing the staff to hunt for change, while he apparently spied out the premises, and got a good look at Cardoso and his security arrangements (or lack of them).

In recent weeks other names have been linked to the assassination. On September 20 a man jailed for armed robbery, named only as Opa, told the investigating magistrate he had come to know Nini Abdul Satar in jail.

Opa said Nini admitted his part in the murder, but claimed he was only a middleman, acting on behalf of Nyimpine Chissano, the businessman son of President Joaquim Chissano. Nini Abdul-Satar also allegedly implicated former industry minister Octavio Muthemba.

Magistrate Augusto Paulino will have to decide whether the Abdul Satars are mentioning the names of Nyimpine Chissano and Muthemba as an elaborate smokescreen or whether there is truth in the allegations. Paulino has announced that he will call them both in for questioning, but as a separate case. It is too late to include them in the trial beginning on Monday.

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