Web tightens around Chissano's son

Almost two years after the violent death of Mozambique’s top investigative journalist, Carlos Cardoso, on November 22 2000, the Maputo City Court has begun the trial of the six people charged with his murder.

But only five people are in the dock. The sixth, Anibal dos Santos Junior (“Anibalzinho”), the man accused of recruiting the death squad and driving their car, was spirited out of Maputo’s top security prison on September 1. It is widely believed that such a high-profile prisoner could only escape thanks to the complicity of high-ranking police officers.
Anibalzinho is now being tried in absentia.

The two other members of the hit squad, Manuel Fernandes (“Escurinho”) and Carlitos Rashid, the man who fired the fatal shots, have both confessed their part in the murder, much to the anguish of their lawyers who had prepared a defence on the assumption that they would stick to their earlier proclamations of innocence.

Three others are charged with ordering the assassination—former bank manager Vicente Ramaya, businessman Ayob Abdul Satar, and his brother, the notorious loan shark Momade Assife Abdul Satar. Ramaya and the Abdul Satar family are the key figures in a bank fraud that resulted in the disappearance of the equivalent of R140-million from the country’s largest bank, the Banco Commercial de Mozambique, in 1996.

Cardoso had relentlessly pursued this case and the corruption inside the attorney general’s office, which meant that it was never brought to court.

Ramaya and Ayob Abdul Satar continue to deny all involvement in the murder, and all knowledge of Anibalzinho. But Momade Abdul Satar has made a partial confession: he admits paying Anibalzinho the equivalent of R500 000, partly in metical and partly in rands, but claims he did not realise until later that this was payment for a contract killing.

The most explosive part of Abdul Satar’s testimony was his claim that President Joaquim Chissano’s oldest son, Nyimpine, requested him to make the payment.

Abdul Satar said Nyimpine Chissano asked for a short-term loan, and instructed that the money be given to Anibalzinho. Chissano covered the loan with a series of post-dated cheques, all of which were supposed to be cashed in November and December 2000. For this service, Abdul Satar charged his illustrious client an interest rate of more than 45% a year.

Abdul Satar still has seven of the cheques and presented four of them in evidence. They had never been cashed, because Chissano “was in financial difficulties”, Abdul Satar said.

Abdul Satar’s sole defence is his claim that he didn’t know what he was doing, something the court found hard to believe. Did he really lend his clients huge sums without asking what they would spend it on?

Abdul Satar replied that he never asked his clients any questions and did business with them on “a basis of confidence”.

He admitted that he has no licence and pays no taxes. His “business” is thus completely unregistered and illegal.

Chissano’s predicament deepened on Monday and Tuesday when the man who pulled the trigger, Rashid, testified repeatedly that he had witnessed meetings between Chissano and Anibalzinho.

There were three such meetings that he observed, said Rashid, and in the first one Chissano gave Anibalzinho a plastic bag containing 100-million metical (about R42 000).

So far there has been no response from Chissano. His father, the president, issued a statement through his press attache saying that he would make no comment, since he did not wish to say anything that might influence the court in any way.

The trial is making judicial history, largely because it is being broadcast live. It has become the number one topic of conversation, not only in Maputo, but wherever people gather to listen to Radio Mozambique.

Stringent security measures are in place. Fear that criminal associates might make an attempt to rescue the accused led to the trial being held in a large air-conditioned marquee erected on the football pitch of the prison.

Armed soldiers patrol the area and are stationed on the roofs overlooking the marquee. The hearings are public—but to enter the tent people must pass through three security checks.

Optimists believe the trial might last a month. But it could go on much longer, depending on how many witnesses the prosecution and the defence call.

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