19 November 2002

Mozambique: Cardoso Murder: Assassin Implicates President's Son

Maputo — One of the six men accused of the murder of Mozambique's top investigative journalist, Carlos Cardoso, on Tuesday confessed to the crime, and claimed that Nyimpine Chissano, businessman son of President Joaquim Chissano, had ordered the killing.

On the second day of the trial, the confessed assassin, Manuel Fernandes, told the court that his friend Anibal dos Santos Junior ("Anibalzinho") had recruited him into the hit squad on the day of the murder, 22 November 2000.

He said that Anibalzinho told him "I want to take you out of poverty. I have a job given to me by the great ones".

When Fernandes asked what "great ones" he was talking about, Anibalzinho replied "Nyimpine, the President's son".

When Anibalzinho promised him 500 million meticais (about 21,000 US dollars at today's exchange rates) "to stabilise your life", Fernandes agreed to take part in the murder.

He claimed that Anibalzinho assured him "It's OK, nobody will touch you".

They then drove in a stolen red Citi-Golf, with Anibalzinho at the wheel, to Avenida Martires de Machava, where "Metical", the paper owned and edited by Cardoso, had its office. There they were joined by Carlitos Rachid Cassamo. Fernandes said Anibalzinho gave Cassamo the murder weapon, an AK-47 assault rifle.

Cassamo insisted on testing the weapon to ensure it would not jam. Fernandes said they drove to a deserted motor sports track, near the city beach, where Cassamo fired a shot to prove the AK-47 was in working condition. They then drove back to "Metical".

When Cardoso and his driver, Carlos Manjate, left the office, shortly after 18.30, the Citi-Golf pursued them at speed.

Fernandes said Anibalzinho overtook the "Metical" Toyota, and as he did so drew a pistol and fired a shot into the air.

Cardoso craned out of the window to see what was going on, and Cassamo then opened fire, twice, against his defenceless victim. The killers then sped off into the night. Fernandes did not know how many bullets Cassamo fired. It all took "a few fractions of a second", he said.

Fernandes added that the following day he accompanied Anibalzinho to the South African border. Anibalzinho drove the Citi-Golf across, while Fernandes, who did not have a passport, waited for him on the Mozambican side. Anibalzinho disposed of the murder vehicle and returned on foot. The pair took a minibus taxi back to Maputo.

Later that day, Anibalzinho gave Fernandes the first instalment of the promised 500 million meticais. This payment was only 30 million - Fernandes said he bought a mobile phone and a television set, put nine million in a bank account, and spent the rest on drink.

Weeks passed and Fernandes received no more money. He complained to Anibalzinho in January 2001. Fernandes told the court "Anibalzinho urged me to be patient, and said Nyimpine had given orders to Nini to pay the money". (Nini is the nickname of Momade Assife Abdul Satar, one of the businessmen charged with ordered Cardoso's murder.) Asked about the motivation of Nyimpine and Nini, Fernandes said he had no idea. "I didn't know either of these people", he said.

No more money was paid, and this, Fernandes said, eventually led him to repent of the murder. "I was all screwed up in my head because of Carlos Cardoso's death", he said. "I didn't want any more money, I just wanted Anibalzinho to get me out of this".

He accompanied Anibalzinho to Swaziland in late February 2001, and it was there that the Mozambican and Swazi police arrested them.

Fernandes has now given the authorities three versions. He made one, quite different confession, to the police in March, and even, in front of prosecution and defence lawyers, helped the police reconstitute the crime. A few months later, he retracted the confession and claimed that he was completely innocent.

Now he has made a confession which, in key details contradicts the earlier one. He had first claimed that Nini Satar drove up to the hit squad as it was waiting outside the "Metical" office, and delivered the AK-47 in a green bag.

But in Tuesday's version, the AK-47 was already in the car when Anibalzinho asked Fernandes to join the murder squad. He said he did not know how Anibalzinho had acquired the gun. In his earlier statements, Fernandes had not mentioned Nyimpine Chissano. The only person who can corroborate the content of these conversations about payment is Anibalzinho, who is currently a fugitive. Anibalzinho disappeared from the Maputo top security prison on 1 September, when somebody conveniently unlocked all three padlocks to his cell door.

Asked about his March confession, Fernandes said "I said some things that were false, some things that were true, all mixed up". He claimed he had been "tortured" into making that confession by the then head of the Maputo branch of the Criminal Investigation Police (PIC), Antonio Frangoulis. On closer questioning, this "torture" turned out to have been late night interrogation.

"They wouldn't let me sleep", he claimed. "I incriminated people (including Nini Satar) because I wanted to get out".

"What I'm saying now is true", Fernandes insisted. "I know that with this truth I shall suffer many consequences. But God is great, so there's no problem".

One person who thinks there's a serious problem is Fernandes's lawyer, Simiao Cuamba. Aghast at his client's confession, Cuamba interrupted the proceedings to say that he could no longer represent Fernandes. "My client has lied to his lawyer", Cuamba exclaimed. But the judge Augusto Paulino said there was no way Cuamba could drop the case at this late stage. He ruled that Cuamba would continue representing Fernandes until a replacement lawyer was found.

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