Maputo, 6 Jan (AIM) - Prominent lawyer Albano Silva on Monday denied claims that he had intimidated or threatened former bank manager Vicente Ramaya, one of those charged with ordering the murder of Mozambique's top investigative journalist, Carlos Cardoso.
When the murder trial reopened after a two week adjournment over the Xmas and New Year holiday period, the prosecution called Silva to reply to allegations made by Ramaya.
The prosecution argues that Ramaya, and the brothers Ayob and Momade Abdul Satar, ordered the assassination because of Cardoso's articles on the 1996 fraud in what was then the country's largest bank, the BCM, in which Ramaya and members of the Abdul Satar family were the main suspects.
When he was interrogated in November, Ramaya tried to shift the blame for the fraud onto members of the BCM board of directors. He also claimed that Silva, who was the lawyer for the BCM, had threatened him so that he would not mention the names of any BCM director during the investigations.
Silva described Ramaya's claims as "absolutely untrue". He pointed out that he had only been hired by the BCM in September 1996, by which time Ramaya had already been suspended from his job as manager of the BCM branch in the Maputo suburb of Sommerschield where the fraud had taken place.
When Ramaya was questioned by the bank's own inspectors, Silva did not take part. In those early interviews, Silva recalled, Ramaya "behaved in an arrogant fashion, and said he had nothing to do with the fraud".
He noted that Ramaya first tried to blame the BCM board of directors in a 1997 newspaper interview, but in the legal investigations of that year "he had every opportunity to provide evidence against the directors, but he produced nothing".
As the BCM's lawyer, "I would accuse any person against whom I had proof", said Silva. "My principles do not allow me to protect anyone. But the fraud happened in Ramaya's branch, and Ramaya was trying to direct the investigations away from the place where the fraud happened".
Not only did he never threaten Ramaya - during the 1997 investigations, Silva was not even able to question him, "because he refused to answer any of my questions, arguing that the bank had no right to appoint a lawyer to represent it during the investigation".
Silva also denied visiting the top security prison in 2000 to persuade a key prosecution witness, Osvaldo Muianga ("Dudu"), to alter his statement so as to incriminate Ramaya and the Satars in the murder of Cardoso. "I never went to the prison to speak to Dudu. I've never used such methods", he said.
He noted that another criminal associate of the Satars, Paulo Estevao ("Dangerman") "asked me to come to the prison and negotiate with him, and I refused. I told him if he had anything to negotiate, he should talk to the judge". (Estevao is one of those accused of the attempt on Silva's life in November 1999. He is also a bodyguard of Momade Assife Satar.) "I didn't visit the prison in this period at all, to speak to Dudu or to anyone else", stressed Silva.
Asked about relations between Ramaya, the Satar brothers, and the attorneys who were handling the BCM case, Silva accused the attorneys (notably Diamantino dos Santos, currently a fugitive for whom an arrest warrant was issued in early 2002) of working with those suspected of masterminding the fraud so that the case could never come to court.
"They sabotaged the case file, they hid evidence, they were creating conditions for impunity", said Silva. "The result was that in 1999, there was really no case at all. It was just a heap of rubbish that was sent to the court. The papers had no order, no logic, the pages were all disorganised, the most important documents were missing. No judge in the world could accept this".
Silva argued that Ramaya and the Satars had worked with corrupt attorneys to ensure that the case would be in no condition to go to trial.
Under normal circumstances, the BCM case should have come to trial in 1998. Instead "it was stopped, and the attorneys took no notice of any of the requests made by the bank", said Silva.
Ramaya visited the attorneys involved regularly, and Silva discovered that Ramaya was given photocopies of everything in the case file, including all the bank's requests.
Silva listed irregularities committed during the investigation. "Ramaya collaborated with Diamantino dos Santos in order to direct the investigation away from the Sommerschield branch", he said. "In February 1997, he gave Diamantino a list of documents to be demanded from the BCM, to do with other branches, not his branch".
Diamantino interrupted an interrogation of one of the bank's directors to accept this list from Ramaya, and demanded that the bank produce the documents at once. It did so, but in 1998 the attorneys "sent all the documents back, because they were useless", said Silva.
Even worse, when Diamantino dos Santos interrogated one bank worker, Ramaya, despite being one of the main accused, took part in the questioning.
The defence lawyers repeatedly tried to stop Silva from speaking. Initially, they denied that the prosecution had any right to call him at all, on the grounds that the BCM fraud is a quite separate case from the Carlos Cardoso murder.
"These are questions that should not be dealt with by this court", declared Ramaya's lawyer, Abdul Gani. He wanted to erect a barrier between the Cardoso murder, and anything to do with the BCM fraud or the attempt on Silva's life.
Prosecuting attorney Mourao Baluce retorted "All the questions you say shouldn't be raised here were in fact first raised by your client".
It was Ramaya who had made a series of allegations in open court against Albano Silva, and if Gani had allowed his client to make these claims, he could hardly complain when the prosecution called on Silva to rebut them.
Judge Augusto Paulino agreed. "The prosecution believes it has the right to contradict what Ramaya said", he pointed out. "It was Ramaya who said that Albano Silva threatened him - it's all in the court minutes".
Domingos Arouca, the lawyer for Ayob Satar, claimed "the deep animosity between Albano Silva and Vicente Ramaya and the Satar family is well known. So for ethical reasons, he should not testify".
Paulino ruled against Arouca, noting that he had not raised this objection when the prosecution first announced, in December, that it would call Silva. Throughout Silva's evidence, Gani made objections, interrupting to claim that Silva was producing, not facts, but "value judgements" and "speculation".
At one point, Paulino admitted there were "excesses" in some of Silva's replies to question, "but this is understandable given that he has suffered an assassination attempt. This is something that will mark him for the rest of his life".
Maputo, 6 Jan (AIM) - Mozambique's top investigative journalist, Carlos Cardoso, was "horrified by the impunity enjoyed by the Abdul Satar family", declared lawyer Albano Silva before the Maputo City Court on Monday.
Called as a prosecution witness in the Carlos Cardoso murder trial, Silva recalled his own friendship with Cardoso, and declared "we shared many ideas in common about Mozambican society. He was always committed to strengthening the rule of law, and to improving the administration of justice".
Silva said he spoke at length to Cardoso about the fraud in the country's largest bank, the BCM, in which the equivalent of $14 million was stolen, using accounts opened in the names of members of the Abdul Satar family, at the BCM branch managed by Vicente Ramaya. After an attempt was made on Silva's life in November 1999, "Cardoso came to my house several times and asked what was going on".
It was then that Silva told him how prominent attorneys were in league with the Abdul Satars and Ramaya to disorganise the BCM case file, and to hide evidence. "Cardoso then wrote demanding that the BCM case come to trial, and that the Attorney-General's Office take seriously its role as defender of the state", said Silva.
Unlike the defence lawyers, Silva showed that he was familiar with Cardoso's writings and could quote from them. He noted that Cardoso had investigated in detail the illegal activities of the Satar family in articles published in the paper he owned and edited, "Metical", in mid 2000. "He was well aware of the danger posed by these individuals", he said.
He pointed to one of Cardoso's editorials, entitled "Society defenceless", which indicated how horrified Cardoso was at the way the Satars operated, apparently untroubled by any law enforcement agency.
Prior to Cardoso's intervention, added Silva, press coverage of the BCM fraud had largely been hostile to the bank, and favourable to the Satars. Cardoso stepped up his work on the case, after BCM chairman, Frelimo parliamentary deputy Eneas Comiche, denounced the fraud, and the complicity of the attorney- general's office, in parliament in March 2000. "This diminished the capacity of the criminals to manipulate the press", said Silva.
Silva said he had always believed that the BCM fraud was a convincing motive for the assassination. "The person who painted the true picture of the Satars and Ramaya, and who ruined their schemes with the Attorney-General's Office was very inconvenient for them", he said.
Silva's most startling revelation was that he had spoken in July 2001 with a former girlfriend of Momade Assife Satar, named only as Faizana, who confirmed that her lover was among those who ordered Cardoso's assassination.
Faizana had asked for a meeting with Silva, to which he agreed with some foreboding, fearing that it might be a trap. But, after ensuring that he was reasonably safe, and in front of two witnesses, he listened to her story.
"She said that Ramaya had invited the Satars to get rid of Cardoso, because he had brought down the Attorney-General's office, and because he had ensured that their relatives could not return to Mozambique", said Silva. "They hated Cardoso".
(Cardoso's articles were believed to have helped create the climate of opinion leading President Joaquim Chissano to sack Attorney-General Antonio Namburete and all six assistant attorney-generals in July 2000. The disappearance of their protectors made it impossible for those members of the Satar family who had fled to Dubai to return.) Silva said Faizana had confirmed that Ramaya and the Satars had ordered both the assassination of Cardoso and the botched attempt on his own life.
Faizana wanted to know how long the Satars would stay in prison. "They thought they would be quickly released and now they were getting desperate", she told him.
Silva recalled that Faizana was "very afraid" of the Satars. He advised her that "it was no good speaking to me - she would be better off speaking to the judge".
Silva said that, shortly after the attempt on his life in November 1999, he sent two people to Ramaya, floating the idea that he might drop his contract with the BCM. "My purpose was to gain time", he said.
Ramaya spoke with the Satars - and then proposed that Silva should continue his contract with the BCM, but should work clandestinely as an "adviser" to the Satars and Ramaya for a fee of half a million US dollars. "I refused, and terminated contact", said Silva.
Asked to reply, Ramaya gave a diametrically opposed version of this late 1999 encounter. He claimed that Silva sent envoys offering him half a million dollars if he would refuse to implicate BCM directors in the fraud.
"I stand by what I said", retorted Silva. "And if Ramaya has proof against the BCM directors, let him present it".
Maputo, 6 Jan (AIM) - The Mozambican Public Prosecutor's Office on Friday interrogated Antonio Malo, the managing director of the travel agency and car hire company Expresso Tours, in connection with the November 2000 murder of the country's top investigative journalist, Carlos Cardoso, reports Monday's issue of the independent newsheet "Mediafax".
Six people charged with the assassination are currently on trial before the Maputo City Court. But a second file on the murder has been opened, in which the accused include Nyimpine Chissano, co-owner of Expresso Tours, and oldest son of President Joaquim Chissano.
Malo was questioned because he allegedly dealt with the postdated Expresso Tours cheques given to loan shark Momade Assife Abdul Satar ("Nini") as security against a loan of 1.2 billion meticais (about $50,000) to Nyimpine Chissano.
According to Satar, at Chissano's request, he gave this money to Anibal dos Santos Junior ("Anibalzinho"), the fugitive who allegedly organised the death squad that murdered Cardoso.
Satar claims he did not realise the money was to be used for a contract killing.
Nyimpine Chissano denied that he had any business dealings with Satar - but Satar was in possession of seven Expresso Tours cheques, totalling 1.29 billion meticais, which he gave to the court as evidence in November.
"Mediafax" says that a second team from the Public Prosecutor's office visited the top security prison on Friday to question Nini Satar. The paper's sources said this interrogation lasted from 09.00 to 16.00, and has not yet terminated.
According to the paper, Satar provided "new information" on his links with Chissano and with his business partner Apolinario Pateguana. The records of the mobile phone company M-Cel indicate 110 phone calls between Satar and Chissano or Pateguana during the year 2000, plus five phone calls that the two business partners allegedly made to Anibalzinho in October 2000, the month prior to the assassination of Cardoso.
"Mediafax" also insists that on Friday Interior Minister Almerino Manhenje was questioned by attorneys about the illicit release of Anibalzinho from the top security prison last September.
However, when the paper rang up Assistant Attorney-General Rafael Sebastiao, he said he had no information about the interrogation of Manhenje. He added that it was likely that the interrogation had happened without him being informed of it.
He did say that, if the Public Prosecutor's Office believes that Manhenje was
involved in the release of Anibalzinho, then it may request President Joaquim
Chissano to remove him from office "so that there can be more transparency
in the case".
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