Maputo — One of the men who ordered the murder of Mozambique’s top investigative journalist, Carlos Cardoso, in November 2000, former bank manager Vicente Ramaya, left prison a free man on Wednesday evening.
Ramaya was serving a sentence of 23 years and six months for the murder, but his lawyer, Abdul Gani, applied for his early release on the grounds of his “good behaviour” while in prison.
A judge in the tenth section of the Maputo City Court, Aderito Malhope, signed the release papers on Monday. Ramaya’s release was delayed a couple of days apparently because the police officer in charge of carrying out the court’s instructions was accompanying Interior Minister Alberto Mondlane on an official tour of Maputo City.
There are conditions on Ramaya’s freedom. He must present himself regularly to the court, he may not leave the country without the explicit authorisation of a judge, and if he commits any further crimes, he will be obliged to serve the rest of his sentence. However, given the porous nature of Mozambique’s borders, if Ramaya wishes to lave the country, he will certainly be able to do so.
Malhope’s decision angered the lawyers for the Cardoso family and for Cardoso’s driver, Carlos Manjate, who was severely injured in the attack.
For neither Ramaya, nor any of the other five men convicted of the murder, have paid a penny of the compensation ordered by the court at the end of the murder trial in January 2003.
The six murderers were ordered 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, and 500 million old meticais to Carlos Manjate.
The Cardoso family lawyer, Lucinda Cruz, and Manjate’s lawyer, Helder Matlaba, confirmed to AIM that nothing at all has been paid so far.
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.
Neither lawyer was consulted about the early release of Ramaya. Cruz said she had received no court notification about the impending release, or about payment of the compensation to Cardoso’s children.
To make matters worse, 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.
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.
Their appeals against the verdict and sentence were rejected by the Supreme Court in June 2009.
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.
On leaving prison, Ramaya declined to say anything to the waiting reporters. Only Gani spoke, announcing that he was pleased with the judge’s decision, which he claimed was in line with the legal provisions for early release.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office does not agree, and has appealed against the release.