22 January 2013

Mozambique: Judge Orders Release of Cardoso Assassin

Maputo — A Maputo judge has ordered the release of Vicente Ramaya, one of the businessmen convicted or ordering the murder, in November 2000, of Mozambique’s finest investigative journalist, Carlos Cardoso.

Ramaya was serving a prison sentence of 23 years and six months for his part in the murder. On Monday a judge in the tenth section of the Maputo City Court, Aderito Malhope, signed the papers granting Ramaya conditional release after serving half his sentence.

The justification for this early release is Ramaya’s supposedly good behaviour in prison. The court contacted the prison authorities for confirmation of this,

The news has been greeted with anger and revulsion. Lawyers, judges and prosecutors contacted by AIM found the decision extraordinary, not least because to date neither Ramaya, nor any of the other five men convicted of the murder, has paid a penny of the compensation that was part of their sentence.

At the end of the trial, on 31 January 2003, the trial judge, Augusto Paulino (who is now the country’s Attorney-General), ordered the six to pay compensation of 14 billion old meticais (588,000 US dollars at the exchange rate of the time) to Cardoso’s two children, Ibo and Milena.

They were also ordered to pay 500 million old meticais to Cardoso’s driver, Carlos Manjate, who was seriously injured in the attack, and was unable to work for several years.

In principle, convicted criminals are not entitled to early release until they have cleared off their debts to their victims. Yet the lawyers for the Cardoso family, Lucinda Cruz, and for Manjate, Helder Matlaba, both confirmed to AIM on Tuesday that to date not a penny has been paid to their clients. Furthermore, neither lawyer was informed of the impending release of Ramaya.

Matlaba said that in December he had been notified that two of Ramaya’s co-defendants, Momad Assife Abdul Satar (“Nini”) and his brother Ayob Abdul Satar, were willing to make voluntary payment of the compensation to Manjate. No such offer came from Ramaya.

But the terms offered by the Satars were unacceptable, since they suggested payment in eight instalments. Matlaba said he insisted on payment in no more than two instalments, and that the sum should be increased to take account of the ten years of inflation since 2003. He has not received a reply to his counter-proposal,

Possibly the murderers are also offering compensation to Ibo and Milena Cardoso – but if so, Cruz does not know about it, since she has received no formal notification from the court.

Judge Malhope’s ruling concerns only the Cardoso murder case. Yet Ramaya was also found guilty of the massive 1996 bank fraud that saw 144 billion old meticais (14 million dollars at the exchange rate of the time) siphoned out of the country’s largest bank, the Commercial Bank of Mozambique (BCM) on the eve of its privatization.

This case was intimately linked with the Cardoso assassination. In his independent newsheet “Metical”, Cardoso campaigned tirelessly for the BCM case to come to trial, and against the corruption in the public prosecutor’s office that was holding the case back. Cardoso was such a thorn in the flesh of those who defrauded the BCM, that they decided to eliminate him.

Ramaya was the manager of the BCM branch in the Maputo suburb of Sommerschield, and he arranged for fraudulent accounts to be opened in that branch in the name of various members of the Abdul Satar family. Dud cheques for billions of meticais were deposited in those accounts, which should have been rejected since the originating accounts contained little or no money, or had even been closed. But Ramaya intervened to ensure that the cheques were credited to the Satar accounts, and that very real cash could be withdrawn.

In June 2004, Ramaya was sentenced to 12 years for his part in the fraud, and he, and his co-defendants, were ordered to repay the money stolen.

They all appealed, and it was not until five years later, in June 2009, that the Supreme Court heard, and rejected, the appeal. The criminal section of the Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the trial judge, Achirafo Abdul, and declared that Ramaya had “played a central role in the fraud”.

The defendants’ lawyers then attempted to appeal from the section to the plenary of the Supreme Court – but such a manoeuvre is only possible when matters of law are at stake, rather than matters of fact. The new appeal did not broach any matters of law, and so the criminal section did not grant leave to appeal to the plenary.

As far as the judges of the criminal section were concerned, that was the end of the story, and Ramaya’s 12 year sentence was definitive.

The Maputo City Court should have added the BCM sentence to the sentence Ramaya was already serving for the Cardoso murder. This is not simply a mathematical operation, since Mozambican law will not allow prison sentences longer than 30 years: nonetheless, there is no doubt that Ramaya would have ended up with a combined sentence considerably longer than 23 years and six months.

Yet the City Court did not run the two sentences together, and judge Malhope has only taken the sentence in the Cardoso case into consideration.

This means that Ramaya has not served a day of his sentence for the BCM fraud, much less repaid any of the money stolen from the bank.

As for Ramaya’s supposedly good behaviour in prison, this is contradicted by reports that Ramaya has continued to run a real estate business from his prison cell, and that this business was involved in swindling the National Social Security Institute (INSS) out of a million dollars over the purchase of a house in Sommerschield.

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