May 1, 2003

Siba-Siba Macuacua’s killer arrested among growing anti-corruption climate

The Mozambican economist Antonio Siba-Siba, assassinated in August 2001, was on 30 April shortlisted for the Transparency International Integrity Award. This follows a growing campaign inside Mozambique for the investigation of the murder, which led in mid-April to the arrest of a suspect who seemed to have police protection. Meanwhile, the World Bank country director for Mozambique made clear that investigation of past bank scandals and the death of Siba-Siba is not a Bank priority.

Siba-Siba was a rising star in the Bank of Mozambique, and at the age of just 33 was head of banking supervision. When the privatised Austral Bank under former Industry Minister Octavio Muthemba collapsed in April 2001, the Bank of Mozambique appointed Siba-Siba interim chairman. He began to chase the bank's many debtors, publishing a list of over 1,200 debtors in the daily "Noticias". He also cancelled contracts signed by the previous board, including that of Nyimpine Chissano, oldest son of President Joaquim Chissano, who had been hired as a consultant for $3,000 a month despite his lack of banking experience. Siba-Siba's efforts won him enemies and on 11 August 2001, he was killed in his office on the top floor of the Austral headquarters. His body was hurled down the stairwell. Investigation of the murder was repeatedly blocked and delayed.

In February, a group of prominent Mozambicans nominated Siba-Siba posthumously for the Integrity Award of the anti-corruption body Transparency International (TI). Among those nominating Siba-Siba were the country's former first lady, Graca Machel; former finance minister Abdul Magid Osman; the country's best known writer, novelist Mia Couto; Supreme Court judge Norberto Carrilho; prominent journalists Salomao Moyana and Machado da Graca; and economists Roberto Tibana and Antonio Francisco. The group argued that the murder of Siba-Siba "was meant to send a signal that organized crime was very much in control and would not tolerate those who crossed their line". They added that "many people are still being subjected to pressure and made fearful of continuing the call for justice."

On 16 April the Association of Mozambican Economists (AMECON) launched a campaign to demand a proper investigation into the murder. AMECON's annual general meeting obliquely criticised its leadership for failing to take a public stand over the murder. Its statement contrasted this with the behaviour of Mozambican journalists when the country's top investigative journalist, Carlos Cardoso, was murdered in November 2000. "Mozambican journalists never lost heart, or just sat back and crossed their arms", the statement said. "They insisted. They made sure the case was remembered. This pressure from civil society helped ensure that the case was solved, and that the investigation produced results." On 30 April Transparency International announced that Siba-Siba had been shortlisted for special posthumous recognition. It's statement said it hopes the nomination sends "a strong message to the international community of the need to support those who, under the threat of terror, continue to pursue the principles of integrity to bring justice and transparency into our lives."

The growing pressure seems to have been effective, because on 17 April the police arrested Carlos Silva "Arrumacao". As a member of the elite presidential guard, the Casa Militar, Arrumacao was jailed in 1997 for the murder, with another Casa Militar member, of artist Eugenio de Lemos, Shortly after that, he "escaped" and is alleged to have been involved in the contract killing of banker Lima Felix, who was investigating money laundering. Arrumacao robbed banks, was involved in at least one more killing, and seems to have been involved in the regional trade of hijacked cars. During this period he had police protection, but was eventually arrested again in 1999. He was allowed to escape again in July 2001, when the high security prison was under the guard of the Casa Militar, apparently in order to murder Siba-Siba. He then settled down and began running a minibus-taxi service between the towns of Maxixe and Vilanculo, where he was finally arrested. The government news agency AIM notes that driving a bus up and down a busy stretch of the country's main north-south highway "under the noses of the police … is the behaviour of someone who believes that he is well-protected, and will not be caught." The convicted killers of Carlos Cardoso are also known to have gained the assistance of members of the Casa Militar while in prison.

So far the campaign to find the killers of Siba-Siba and to pursue the investigations of senior government and party officials involved in the massive bank frauds of the late 1990s has not won much support from the donor community in Maputo, which prefers to forget the whole sordid business. At a press conference on 23 April, the Bank's country director for Mozambique, Darius Mans, told reporters that the priority is to look ahead, not back. "We need a sound and healthy financial system in Mozambique. What I would argue is that it is time to sit back and look at the financial system as a whole. Does it produce sound, competitive services that support development in Mozambique?" (J. Hanlon)

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