Maputo, 9 Dec (AIM) - The Abdul Satar brothers, accused of ordering the murder of Mozambique's top investigative journalist, Carlos Cardoso, had a business relationship with Expresso Tours, the travel agency and hire car company owned by Nyimpine Chissano, the oldest son of President Joaquim Chissano, according to businesswoman Candida Cossa.
Cossa's testimony took up virtually the entire Monday sitting of the Cardoso murder trial, and her description of the Satars' relationship with Expresso Tours was utterly incompatible with that given by Nyimpine Chissano last week.
Chissano had categorically denied any business relationship with the younger of the brothers, loan shark Momade Assife Abdul Satar ("Nini"). But Cossa painted a picture of regular contacts between Satar and Expresso Tours in 1999/2000.
Cossa's testimony sheds little direct light on the Cardoso murder, but it does afford a fascinating view into murky corners of the Mozambican economy, where vast sums of money change hands with few questions asked, and no taxes paid, and where loans are secured by post-dated cheques, or, should that fail, by mafia- type threats to the debtor and his or her family.
She claimed that this was how she had first come into contact with Satar "when he sent his men round to threaten me", in July 1999. She had run up a debt of 130,000 US dollars for building work to a man named Gulamo Shabir. The cheque she had given him was "negotiated" on to Unicambios, the foreign exchange bureau owned by Momade's brother and co-accused Ayob Abdul Satar.
Since the cheque bounced, Nini Satar sent the enforcers round, at which point Cossa appealed to her friends in Expresso Tours - Nyimpine Chissano, his brother N'naite, and their colleague Nanaio Pateguana. They assured Satar that Cossa would soon have the money to pay him.
She raised the money, she said, by selling a company she owned, Mocambique Licores, to the Chissano brothers and Pateguana, for 205,000 dollars. Miraculously, this was exactly the amount she owed Satar, once the loan shark's astronomical interest had been taken into account.
But although Cossa had been desperately short of money in July 1999, a few months later she was able to bail Nyimpine Chissano out of difficulty when a South African company, Budget Rent-a-Car, threatening to drag him through a Pretoria court.
Budget said he owed them 750,000 rands (about 75,000 dollars at today's exchange rate) for two luxury cars lent to Expresso Tours which had been damaged.
Cossa lent Chissano 250,000 rands immediately to stave off Budget, and later provided Expresso Tours with another 30,000 dollars.
But this was a minor deal compared to one she struck with Vicente Ramaya, a former bank manager also charged with ordering Cardoso's murder. In mid 1999 (according to Ramaya) or early 2000 (according to Cossa), she lent Ramaya 450,000 dollars, to be passed on to Zulfikar Sulemane, a businessman in the northern city of Pemba.
Ramaya persuaded Cossa to lend the money on the basis that Sulemane had a project backed by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private lending arm of the World Bank, which would provide him with 700,000 dollars. But he needed cash immediately - so if Cossa lent the money at once, she would get it back three months later, once the IFC money came through. Cossa said that, although she had never met Sulemane in her life, she lent the money to Ramaya. But no IFC money was forthcoming, and it turned out that Sulemane owed vast sums of money to many other people - notably to the BCM, the bank Ramaya had once worked for. His debt to the BCM stood at 77 billion meticais (about 325,000 dollars at today's exchange rates, but worth considerably more in 1999/2000).
Cossa said that, despite a legally binding document from Sulemane admitting that he is in debt to her, she has never recovered a penny of this loan.
She also claimed that her friendship with the Chissano brothers led her to introduce them to Omar Hussein, who runs a car sale business in Durban. Through her good offices, the two Chissano brothers and Pateguana bought three Mercedes-Benz saloons from Hussein for about 800,000 rands, on credit.
When the payments were not kept up, Hussein came to Maputo to demand his money, in May 2000. He is a relative of Abdul Magid Hussein, the owner of the Maputo company Bazaar Central, against whom the Satar brothers have been waging a vendetta. So Hussein, Abdul Magid, the Chissanos and Pateguana all met at Cossa's house.
To pay off Omar Hussein, another debt was contracted with Nini Satar. He was to pay for the cars, against a series of four postdated cheques amounting to 1.29 billion meticais. Cossa claimed that a cheque issued by Satar for the three Mercedes bounced, and she then gave the cheque to Abdul Magid.
But Satar claimed the cheque had been stolen, and he threatened to take Magid to court.
"I had to go to PIC (Criminal Investigation Police) to say I had received the cheque from Nini, and so PIC went after Nini", claimed Cossa. "Nini then rang me and said he would pay me the money".
But instead of receiving the money at once, she claims she was entrapped into a meeting with both Satars in a room in the Rovuma Hotel. "Nini shut the door, put the key in his pocket, and said I had to rewrite my statement to PIC", said Cossa. "He threatened that his men would kidnap one of my children".
At this point in Cossa's testimony, Nini Satar was audibly muttering "it's a lie, it's a lie", which earned him a stern rebuke from the presiding judge, Augusto Paulino. The judge warned that, if Satar continued to disrupt the trial, he would be sent to one of the security prison's "disciplinary cells".
Faced with the threat to her children, Cossa said, she did as Satar demanded, and changed her statement to PIC.
Despite this unpleasant experience, within a matter of months she and Expresso Tours were again dealing with Nini Satar.
The deal this time, she said, was that Satar was to pay off the loan that Nyimpine Chissano had contracted with Cossa over the Budget Rent-a-Car damaged vehicles. Once again, the security given by Expresso Tours to Satar was a series of postdated cheques - six for 165 million meticais each and one for 247.5 million.
Cossa said that Satar cashed the largest of these cheques before he should have done, and when Expresso Tours found that 247.5 million meticais had disappeared from its account, it demanded that Satar repay - which he did.
Expresso Tours then cancelled the whole arrangement, said Cossa, and tried to recover the postdated cheques, which Satar refused to hand over.
These cheques have become central to the trial. Nini Satar provided the court with seven Expresso Tours cheques, six for 165 million meticais each, and one for 300 million, as evidence in his defence.
He claims that these cheques were personally given to him by Nyimpine Chissano to cover a loan of 1.2 billion meticais. This loan, however, took the form of payments (some in meticais and some in rands) to Anibal dos Santos Junior ("Anibalzinho"), the fugitive who is accused or organising the death squad that murdered Cardoso on 22 November 2000. Satar claims that only when he met Anibalzinho in prison did he realise that his loan to Chissano had been used to pay for a contract killing.
Nyimpine Chissano last week admitted to signing the cheques, but said they were given to Candida Cossa as collateral against a loan to meet demands from unspecified "suppliers". He could not understand how the cheques had fallen into Satar's hands, Now Cossa has given an entirely different story in which Expresso Tours provided Satar with two series of postdated cheques - one to cover the money Satar paid for the three Mercedes, and one for her loan to rescue Nyimpine from his problems with Budget Rent-a-Car.
So the court is now faced with three radically different explanations for the same postdated cheques.
The court was also curious about the sources of Candida Cossa's wealth. At the request of defence lawyer Eduardo Jorge, judge Paulino asked how she had acquired such large sums - and how she could apparently afford to lose 450,000 dollars on an ill-advised loan.
Cossa simply refused to answer. "I'm not going to explain in public how I earn my money", she said.
Cossa offered to tell the court about her finances in private, but Paulino rejected this, pointing out that the trial is public and he had no intention of changing that.
Maputo, 9 Dec (AIM) - Ayob Abdul Satar, and his brother Momade Assife Abdul Satar, two of those accused of murdering journalist Carlos Cardoso, on Monday vehemently denied ever threatening Candida Cossa, a wealthy businesswoman and acquaintance of Nyimpine Chissano, oldest son of President Joaquim Chissano.
Cossa had testified at the Maputo City Court to a meeting in a room in the Rovuma Hotel in May 2000 with the Satar brothers, at which Momade Satar ("Nini") had threatened that one of her children would be abducted, unless she changed a statement she had made to the police concerning a cheque signed by Satar that had bounced.
Asked by presiding judge Augusto Paulino about this meeting, both brothers denied that it had ever happened.
"This is a total lie", said Ayob. "The only part of the Rovuma Hotel I have ever visited is the commercial centre on the ground floor".
He claimed that Cossa had received a summons to the Criminal Investigation Police "because Momade was taking criminal action against those who stole the cheque". (According to Cossa this cheque, for 1.3 billion meticais - over 50,000 dollars - bounced, according to Satar, it was stolen by Abdul Magid Hussein, a Maputo trader against whom he has been waging a vendetta.) Ayob Satar added that Cossa had asked his brother to arrange a lawyer for her, because "she was very frightened by the police summons, since she had made a false declaration at the request of the Magid family".
Momade Satar dismissed the meeting in the Rovuma as "pure invention by Candida". He also denied her claim that the first time they had met was when he had threatened her over a debt of 130,000 dollars in July 1999. He said that their first contact was "in late 1998 or early 1999 when she requested credit of 200 million or 300 million meticais, for a deal over imported cigarettes".
He said they discussed a deal "whereby I was to be the intermediary for 5,000 boxes of cigarettes". But it fell through because Satar rejected the payment by instalment scheme proposed by Cossa.
When Paulino turned to Cossa, she reaffirmed her original story, declaring that her children had come under threat at a meeting in the Rovuma. She denied that she had been summoned by the police, and said she had no need to go to the Satars to hire a lawyer, since she had lawyers of her own.
Maputo, 9 Dec (AIM) - Augusto Paulino, the judge in the Carlos Cardoso murder trial, on Monday announced changes in procedure to safeguard witnesses, following the weekend threats against wealthy businesswoman Candida Cossa.
On Saturday, the police detained two men who were hanging around Cossa's home, one of whom had tried insistently to speak to her. This man, Ramalho Domingos ("Travassos") tried to enter the house, saying he wanted to provide Cossa with "moral support".
But the security guard on the door became suspicious and called the police. The second man, Jorge Mafawa, was waiting outside in a parked car.
The police found that Travassos was carrying newspaper cuttings on the trial, and scraps of handwritten paper, one containing Cossa's address, and others containing details of the cheques signed by Nyimpine Chissano, the oldest son of President Joaquim Chissano, which have become central to the trial.
Candida Cossa also received threatening phone calls on Friday and Saturday, warning her to say nothing more about the cheques. She received three such calls on Friday, and five on Saturday.
The police also presented to reporters a man detained on suspicion of preparing an attack against the home of judge Paulino. This man, Pedro Nhantumbo (known by the English nickname "Come Tomorrow"), was spotted with five other people in two cars apparently reconnoitring the apartment block where the judge lives. The gang was armed with an AK-47 rifle and a pistol. When the police made their move, Nhantumbo was caught but the others escaped.
Nhantumbo denies any intention to attack judge Paulino. He says that the gang's real target was to rob the petrol station next door to the apartment block.
Nhantumbo was first arrested in 1995, after a robbery at the Maputo offices of the NGO Handicap International. But he was released on bail and never stood trial for this crime.
At the start of the Monday session of the trial, Paulino praised the police for their prompt action outside Cossa's house, and announced changes in the way the court will deal with witnesses.
Usually, as part of routine identification, witnesses announce their addresses in court. In this trial, that will no longer happen: witnesses will give their addresses to court officials, but will no longer be obliged to give their addresses before the TV cameras that are broadcasting the trial live.
Furthermore, the court will no longer announce publicly in advance which witnesses are to be heard on which days. Paulino also said that once a witness has started giving evidence, he or she will not be interrupted, as happened with Cossa. So one of two things will happen - either the court will sit later than usual to conclude interviewing a witness, or will end earlier than usual so as to not to start questioning a witness when it is clear that he or she will require several hours on the witness stand.
On Monday, the Public Prosecutor's Office also withdrew its request to call the former chairman of the privatised Austral Bank, Octavio Muthemba, as a witness. Paulino agreed to this, even though one of the defence lawyers, Domingos Arouca, argued that the affairs of the Austral Bank (which came close to collapse under a mountain of bad debt in April 2001) were germane to the case.
Muthemba had been called initially because of accusations made by one of the accused, Momade Assife Abdul Satar ("Nini"), linking him to the murder. But on Monday Satar said he had no evidence against Muthemba, and had just heard about his supposed involvement from other people.
Paulino said Muthemba would be called again later in the trial, if necessary.
He said the court would certainly call Muthemba for questioning if Satar repeated
allegations against him.
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