January 15, 2003

Summing up in Cardoso murder trial

The Maputo city court has set 31 January as the date for verdict and sentencing in the case of the murder of Mozambique's top investigative journalist, Carlos Cardoso. Judge Augusto Paulino set the date on 13 January after listening to the summing up from prosecution and defence lawyers, and final statements from the accused themselves.

Judge Paulino stressed that the only people on trial are the five men in the dock - plus the fugitive, Anibal dos Santos Junior ("Anibalzinho"), who was illicitly released from the Maputo top security jail on 1 September. The judge was thus alerting the public that, although accusations have been made against several other people, notably businessman Nyimpine Chissano, the oldest son of President Joaquim Chissano, they are not on trial, and can thus neither be found guilty nor acquitted.

Giving his summing up, public prosecutor Mourao Baluce said that the guilt of all six men had been proven during the trial, which began before the Maputo City Court on 18 November. He demanded the maximum sentence for first degree murder (a 24 year jail term) not only for the three members of the death squad - Carlitos Rashid Cassamo, Manuel Fernandes, and the fugitive Anibal dos Santos Junior ("Anibalzinho") - but also for the three men charged with ordering the killing, Ayob Abdul Satar, owner of the Unicambios foreign exchange bureau, his brother, the notorious loan shark Momade Assife Abdul Satar ("Nini"), and former bank manager Vicente Ramaya. The motive cited by Baluce was the 1996 fraud, in which 144 billion meticais ($14 million at the exchange rate of the time) was stolen from the BCM. The fraud took place at Ramaya's BCM branch, using fraudulent accounts opened in the names of members of the Abdul Satar family.

Silva had been pursuing this case relentlessly, and Cardoso had been writing about it. "Carlos Cardoso was a serious, incorruptible, investigative journalist who would not allow the BCM case to be forgotten", said Baluce. "His work inconvenienced the criminals." Cardoso was the main problem for those who defrauded the bank - for they could be sure that, if they murdered Silva first, then Cardoso would not rest until they had been brought to justice. Baluce pointed out that the difference between the activities of a lawyer and of a journalist ensured that "Carlos Cardoso's work came to the work of many more people than those aware of Albano Silva's procedural battles".

The major problem for the prosecution has been that a key witness, Osvaldo Muianga ("Dudu"), who claims to have been present at the Rovuma meetings, has changed his story several times. The defence has tried to discredit him, and claims that the meetings are a figment of his imagination. Baluce argued that the instability of Muianga's story was due to the pressures put upon him and his family by some of the defendants and their relatives. Throughout the trial, the court has heard of how the Satar family threatened, cajoled and bribed witnesses.

Lawyers for the defendants urged the Court to acquit their clients, or, in the cases of those who confessed to the assassination, to show clemency in the light of "mitigating circumstances". Portuguese lawyer Eduardo Jorge, representing the loan shark Momade Assife Abdul Satar ("Nini") admitted his client's character defects - Nini, he said, was indeed arrogant, loved money, and had committed usury. But if he was as powerful, and influential as some people claimed "then how come he is in prison and not outside?"

Jorge had to face the awkward fact that last year Nini Satar had tried to involve the judge, Augusto Paulino, and senior police officers, including Antonio Frangoulis, former head of the Maputo Criminal Investigation Police (PIC), in an alleged conspiracy to extort a million dollars from him. "Nini erred - out of despair - when he went after the judge and the police officers", said Jorge. "Did he do it on purpose? I don't think so". He claimed that the prosecution had produced "no serious evidence" that his client had ordered the murder of Cardoso. It was true that he had made payments to the man who recruited the death squad, the fugitive Anibal dos Santos Junior ("Anibalzinho") - but he had claimed not to know what these payments were for, and the prosecution had not proved otherwise, Jorge said.

The defence lawyers tried hard to discredit key defence witnesses, particularly Osvaldo Muianga ("Dudu"), who had testified to meetings in the Rovuma hotel, attended by Anibalzinho, the Satar brothers and Ramaya, at which murder was planned. Arouca claimed that Muianga was so distinctive (a very short man wearing moslem clothes) that the hotel staff would have recognised him if he had really been to the Rovuma.

Samuel Valentim, lawyer for Carlitos Rashid, the man who admits firing the shots that took Cardoso's life, had the easiest task. He merely asked the court to take account of his "free and spontaneous confession" as a mitigating circumstance. He claimed that Rashid committed the crime because of his poverty (he was having difficulty paying the rent on his house) and because of "bad company" such as Anibalzinho. (AIM)

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