Murderer changes journalist killing story and blames another

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The man who led the death squad that murdered Mozambique’s foremost investigative journalist, Carlos Cardoso, in November 2000, Monday changed his story and claimed the killing was ordered by the late Nyimpine Chissano, the eldest son of former President Joaquim Chissano.

Anibal dos Santos Junior (“Anibalzinho”) is currently serving a 30-year jail sentence for his part in the murder.

Because Anibalzinho escaped in September 2002, he was tried in absentia along with five others, from November 2002 to January 2003. He was later retried, in person, and found guilty for the second time in January 2006. Both trials found that Anibalzinho recruited the other two members of the death squad and drove the stolen car used in the murder.

Convicted of ordering the murder were the notorious loan shark Momad Assife Abdul Satar (“Nini”), his brother Ayob Abdul Satar, owner of the now defunct Unicambios foreign exchange bureau and bank manager Vicente Ramaya.

Bank fraud

Their motive was clear – Cardoso was investigating the huge bank fraud in which the equivalent of US$ 14 million was siphoned via phony accounts in the names of members of the Abdul Satar family held at the branch of the Commercial Bank of Mozambique (BCM), managed by Ramaya.

Anibalzinho is currently on trial before the Maputo City Court for his part in the 1999 attempted murder of the BCM’s lawyer, Albano Silva. But when he was questioned by the court on Monday Anibalzinho tried to re-open the Cardoso murder case, alleging the assassination was ordered and paid for by Nyimpine Chissano.

This is very different indeed from what he said when he was standing trial for the Cardoso murder from December 2005- January 2006, in which Anibalzinho thrust all the blame for the murder on the shoulders of Ramaya and the Satars, exonerating Chissano Jr.

Reversal of testimony

This time, his testimony was completely reversed: now he claimed it was all the fault of Nyimpine and since Nyimpine died of a heart attack last November, he was in no position to uphold his good name.

Anibalzinho claimed one of the other accused, Osvaldo Muianga (“Dudu”) introduced him to Nyimpine Chjissano in 2000, at Chissano’s car hire company, Expresso Tours. He said was Chissano supposedly interested in hiring Anibalzinho’s Mercedes Benz saloon.

During his testimony, Anibalzinho initially said Chissano hired the car, but later on, changed his mind and said the deal fell through.

Anibalzinho said two weeks after this first encounter, he was called to a meeting with Chissano at Nini Satar’s house in the plush central Maputo neighbourhood of Summerschield, at which Chissano asked him to organise the murder of Cardoso.

Anibalzinho gave no explanation as to why a man who was initially merely interested in hiring a car from him would, just a fortnight later, ask him to carry out a contract to kill.

He claimed that eventually he did find a willing assassin – an underground figure named Manuel Chamusse, who then recruited the other members of the death squad. But Chamusse died in South Africa some years ago.

“This is interesting”, remarked Antonio Vasconcelos Porto, the lawyer representing Albano Silva, noting: “All the key people have died.”

The judge, Dimas Marroa, was clearly unhappy with the turn of events. He recognised that it was impossible to prevent Anibalzinho from saying whatever he liked on the witness stand. “This is a delicate situation,” he said,adding “Someone who has died cannot react to what Anibalzinho is saying.”

As for payment for the assassination, Anibalzinho claimed that initially Nyimpine Chissano gave him and Dudu 100 million old meticais (US$ 4,000 at current exchange rate, but worth considerably more in 2000).

This money was “just for our whims,” he claimed, “to buy petrol for the car, to eat a chicken and so on. Dudu and I never had any money, so I asked Dudu to contact Nyimpine for funds, telling him that we were still looking for people to do his job.”

But this was not the payment for the contract on Cardoso’s life. That involved “a lot of money”, said Anibalzinho – but then refused to give any details.

Anibalzinho further claimed that when he was arrested in Swaziland, in early 2001, he rang up both Nyimpine Chissano and the then Interior Minister, Almerino Manhenje.

Walking out the front door is not an escape

As a result, when he arrived at the Maputo top security prison, a member of the Presidential Guard brought him a cell phone which he claimed to have used to contact Nyimpine “so that he could tell me what to say. “I was told to incriminate Nini, Ayob and Ramaya, and never to mention Nyimpine’s name.”

“I had protection from Nyimpine, who promised that nothing would happen to me,” he alleged, claiming this was the truth behind his two escapes from prison (in September 2002 and May 2004). “I never escaped, I was always taken out,” he alleged.

The assassin also claimed to have told “the truth” about the murder to the then head of the Maputo branch of the Criminal Investigation Police (PIC), Antonio Frangoulis. He alleged that Frangoulis was about to issue an arrest warrant for Chissano Jr, when he was suddenly removed from his post.

As for the attempted murder of Albano Silva, Anibalzinho said he knew nothing about it. He denied that he had ever attended any conspiratorial meetings in the Rovuma Hotel in 2000 to plan a second attempt on Silva’s life, nor had he ever telephoned the hotel.

However, Vasconcelos pointed out that there are records of 12 calls made from Anibalzinho’s phone to the Rovuma between April and July 2000, precisely the period in which the prosecution claimed the meetings took place.

The prosecution alleged that Nini Satar hired Fernando Magno to organise the assassination of Albano Silva (Magno painted himself as a legitimate businessman, but Silva’s team describes him as a car thief). Magno then recruited Anibalzinho.

Anibalzinho, however, insisted his only relationship with Magno was business, claiming that as a mechanic, he repaired Magno’s cars. However, the cell phone records show that, in the two months leading up to the attempted murder of Silva, Magno phoned Anibalzinho 62 times, an average of once a day.

Were these calls really just to talk about car repairs?

Anibalzinho insisted that they were, as Magno had several cars under repair and that he was no more than a client for the garage ran by Anibalzinho and his brother.

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