Mozambique News Agency

Carlos Cardoso murder trial update 27 November

BCM fraud at the forefront

Maputo, 27 Nov (AIM) - The 1996 fraud, which removed the equivalent of 14 million dollars from Mozambique's largest bank, the BCM, occupied centre stage on Wednesday at the trial of the six men charged with murdering the country's top investigative journalist, Carlos Cardoso.

One of the accused, Vicente Ramaya, the former manager of the BCM branch where the fraud occurred, claimed that the fraud could have had nothing to do with Cardoso's death, because "neither Cardoso, nor any other Mozambican journalist, knew anything about the fraud".

This was a breathtaking claim: all the more so because, as Ramaya was speaking, journalists in the audience were reading photocopies of several of Cardoso's articles on the fraud, which revealed Cardoso's detailed knowledge of the BCM's workings, and of the various illicit activities of the Abdul Satar family, whose accounts at Ramaya's BCM branch were the conduit through which the money was syphoned out. The court referred repeatedly to Cardoso's article, published in the 9 May 2000 issue of his paper "Metical", entitled "Biographical Notes on the First Cheque of the Fraud", which looked in detail at the first fraudulent transaction by Momade Assife Abdul Satar, which Ramaya should have stopped, but did not.

Ramaya demanded the right to reply, which Cardoso gladly granted, alongside an editorial, on 16 May 2000, welcoming Ramaya's proposal for a public debate on the issue.

Ramaya told the court that this editorial showed that Cardoso had changed his mind about the fraud. In fact, the editorial does not retract a single word of the original article, merely noting that some of Ramaya's claims are in flagrant contradiction with the information from Cardoso's sources.

The public debate never happened. Ramaya said he assumed this was because nobody in the BCM management would agree to it. But the truth is that Ramaya never resumed contact with Cardoso. AIM has seen the set of detailed questions on the fraud that Cardoso faxed to Ramaya and to which he never replied.

Ramaya took every opportunity to attack the old BCM board of directors, whom he claimed were the genuine beneficiaries ofthe fraud, working in league with Asslam Abdul Satar (currently a fugitive, believed to be living in Dubai).

Ramaya claimed that Asslam Satar had been told to deposit the fraudulent cheques "in the accounts of companies, but instead he used the accounts of relatives and friends" (accounts which just happened to have been opened at Ramaya's branch).

He alleged there were a series of other frauds in the BCM. "Mozambican journalists thought it was 14 million dollars, but the true amount was 302 million", he said.

If he knew that theft on a massive scale was taking place, why didn't he approach the banking supervision department in the Bank of Mozambique?, asked Lucinda Cruz, lawyer for the Cardoso family. (At the time this department was headed by Antonio Siba- Siba Macuacua, a young economist much respected for his integrity. He was murdered in August 2001, when he was interim chairman of the crisis-ridden Austral Bank).

Ramaya said he did not trust the central bank, and he had to be careful who he talked to - he claimed he had received two death threats. The only people he trusted, he added, were the attorneys investigating the fraud.

It is, however, precisely those attorneys who were accused of disorganising the case, and of hiding evidence, so that it could never come to trial. An arrest warrant was issued for one of them, Diamantino dos Santos, in January 2001, and he is currently on the run.

Ramaya also attacked the BCM's lawyer, Albano Silva. Much of his May 2000 reply to Cardoso's article had consisted of insults against Silva, and now he added allegations that would be defamatory anywhere outside a courtroom.

He claimed that, in a meeting with Silva in 1996, the lawyer had urged him to take the full blame for the fraud, and exonerate the board of directors. Ramaya added that this year Silva had met with prosecution witness Oswaldo Muianga and had bribed him to incriminate both Ramaya and Nyimpine Chissano, the oldest son of President Joaquim Chissano.

Judge Augusto Paulino demanded some proof for this accusation. "In this prison you get to know everything", claimed Ramaya. "It's an absolute certainty".

But prison chatter does not meet Paulino's standards of evidence, and he demanded something more substantial. "I will have to speak to the prisoners first", said Ramaya. "I will have to collect the data".

Vicente Ramaya's wealth

Maputo, 27 Nov (AIM) - Former bank manager Vicente Ramaya, one of the six men on trial for the murder of Mozambican journalist Carlos Cardoso, told the court on Wednesday that he did not receive any money from the 1996 fraud that took the equivalent of 14 million US dollars from his branch of the Commercial Bank of Mozambique (BCM).

In that case, what could be the explanation for the sudden wealth he displayed in the late 1990s? He told the court he had received a gift of 1,000 dollars from his in-laws, and had an income of "400 to 500 dollars a month" from renting out a beach-side house in his home city of Pemba. In addition he earned money from "consultancy work in the banking area".

Was that really enough to cover a loan of 450,000 dollars granted by former customs official Maria Candida Cossa to Pemba businessman Zulfikar Sulemane? Ramaya claimed that this had operated on a basis of personal trust. "Candida knew me, she didn't know Zulfikar", he said. "I signed without hesitation, because I knew that 700,000 dollars for Zulfikar's project had been approved".

Ramaya claimed that this 700,000 dollars was to come from the International Finance Corporation, the private lending arm of the World Bank. But in fact the project (which Ramaya did not explain) did not secure a favourable Environmental Impact Assessment.

If Ramaya is the financial expert he claims to be, he should have known that World Bank bodies do not provide funds without a favourable Environmental Impact Assessment.

The 700,000 dollars was not forthcoming, and "Candida was demanding that I solve the problem". Ramaya was evasive about if and how the 450,000 dollars lent by Candida Cossa was repaid.

Meanwhile, Ramaya was buying luxury cars from Fernando Magno. This ties Ramaya directly to the world of crime, since Magno is one of the associates of the Abdul Satar family charged with the 1999 attempted murder of the BCM's lawyer, Albano Silva.

Magno is also a trafficker in vehicles, and Ramaya said that in 1998 he had purchased an Audi A4 and a BMW, both "almost new", from Magno for between 350 and 400 million meticais (at late 19998 exchange rates, that would be somewhere between 30,000 and 34,000 US dollars).

A few months later the customs service seized these vehicles. In April 1999, Ramaya took action to get them back, and a judge gave a provisional ruling in his favour.

Nonetheless, he told Magno "I think there's something wrong about these vehicles" - and so Magno replaced them with two more BMWs. So the price of a nearly new BMW for Ramaya was between 15,000 and 17,000 dollars (including the massive customs duties that are paid on luxury cars).

It thus should have come as no surprise that a year later, these vehicles were also seized. According to the article run in Cardoso's paper, "Metical", at the time, customs suspected that the cars were stolen.

Ramaya repeatedly told the court that it was unthinkable that either Nyimpine Chissano, the oldest son of President Joaquim Chissano, or Octavio Muthemba, former chairman of the privatised Austral Bank, which came close to ruin when he was running it, could have had anything to do with Cardoso's murder.

Asked how he could be so certain, Ramaya said he had been introduced to Chissano Jr by Candida Cossa. Ramaya said he met him three times, twice at Cossa's house, and once at Nyimpine Chissano's company, Expresso Tours. These encounters must have left a striking impression on Ramaya, for he cited no other evidence to back up his insistence that Nyimpine could have had no involvement in the assassination.

As for Octavio Muthemba, Ramaya admitted that he did not know him personally at all. He had a "close friendship" with Octavio's brother, Levy Muthemba, to whom he had given "advice on merchandising". From these contacts, he knew that the Muthemba family had "moral values", and so ruled out the possibility that a member of the family whom he did not know could ever have committed murder.

Anibalzinho's mother to testify

Maputo, 27 Nov (AIM) - Judge Augusto Paulino has ordered Teresinha Mendonca, the mother of the fugitive Anibal dos Santos Junior ("Anibalzinho"), to take the witness stand in the trial of her son and five others accused of the murder of Mozambique's top investigative journalist, Carlos Cardoso.

Anibalzinho is accused of organising the death squad that killed Cardoso on 22 November 2000. He disappeared from the Maputo top security prison on 1 September, and is now being tried in absentia.

On Wednesday, the public prosecutor, Dr Mourao, requested that a Mozambican TV news interview with Mendonca be shown as evidence.

One of the defence lawyers, Eduardo Jorge, representing prominent money lender Momade Assife Abdul Satar, objected. He claimed that the interview could be classified as a "private conversation" between Mendonca and the TV reporter, and such conversations were not admissible as evidence.

Paulino dismissed this argument. "Statements made to the media are not, and never have been, private in nature", he said. "These statements were made with the intention of being broadcast by Mozambican Television".

In the TV clip, played to the court, Mendonca admitted that she knows where her son is, and maintains regular contact with him. (She has, however, given other media contradictory answers, at times saying Anibalzinho is in London, and at other times, in South Africa).

Mendonca said that everything revealed in court about her son receiving money from Nyimpine Chissano, the oldest son of President Joaquim Chissano, "is a pure lie. My son never had any business with Nyimpine".

She said it was Momade Satar "better than anyone else" who knew all about the murder. "I have proof of this", she said. "I am not afraid of any Pakistani coming to kill me" (The Abdul Satar family originated in Pakistan.) Repeatedly Mendonca claimed she had proof against Satar, and proof that Nyimpine Chissano was not involved. "I have proof, and It will be shown at the appropriate time", she said.

Paulino thought the appropriate time was straightaway - but Mendonca was not in court on Wednesday. He overruled objections from Anibalzinho's lawyer, Simeao Cuamba, and ordered that Mendonca be notified to give evidence from the witness stand.

Weapon not found

Maputo, 27 Nov (AIM) - The prosecution in the trial of six people charged with the November 2000 murder of Mozambican journalist Carlos Cardoso on Wednesday produced in court an AK-47 rifle which it believed might be the murder weapon.

This gun, together with an ammunition clip containing 19 bullets, had been found inside a black rucksack, abandoned in a Maputo rubbish bin.

The police received an anonymous tip-off last Thursday from the gun's illicit owner. The policeman who took the call said he could hear a discussion in the background in which the caller said, in the Shangaan language, "I'm getting rid of this. It only brings trouble".

The caller gave instructions as to where the gun would be found, the policeman immediately drove to the rubbish bin and retrieved it.

But the prosecution's hopes were soon dashed. The man who has confessed to firing the shots, Carlitos Rashid, was shown the weapon, and immediately denied that this was the gun he had used.

The gun from the rubbish bin had a sawn off barrel, but the one he used to murder Cardoso did not. Nor had he ever seen the black bag before.

A second member of the death squad, Manuel Fernandes ("Escurinho") was not sure about the gun, since he had not actually handled the murder weapon. But he was sure that the black rucksack was not the right bag.

Rashid had testified on Monday that both the AK-47 and a second gun used during the assassination, a Makarov pistol, had been hidden in the garden of an aunt of the man accused of leading the hit team, Anibal dos Santos Junior ("Anibalzinho").

But when the poice went to the aunt's home, in the Maputo suburb of Jardim, they found no guns. The police assume that they have been moved somewhere else. This was not particularly surprising. The trial is being broadcast live by Mozambican radio and TV - so immediately Rashid made his confession, Anibalzinho's associates knew they had to move the guns.

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