Maputo — Mozambican policeman Arsenio Chitsotso on Wednesday confessed at the Maputo City Court to participating in a string of kidnappings in late 2011 and early 2012.
He was giving evidence on the second day of the trial of eight people accused of kidnapping businessmen of Asian origin or their relatives in order to extort large amounts of ransom money.
The most shocking fact about the accused is that three of them - Arsenio Chitsotso, his brother Luis and Albino Primeiro - are policemen.
Chitsotso is a member of the Presidential Guard, the elite police unit responsible for the security of President Armando Guebuza.
According to the trial report in Thursday's issue of the independent newsheet “Mediafax”, Chitsotso and the other two policemen had the same story. They told the court that they didn't realize they were kidnapping anybody. The man who led the group of kidnappers, Bendene Chissano (known as “the Angolan”), told them that they were detaining people in order to collect supposed debts.
Chitsotso thus seemed to think it acceptable to turn the police force into a private debt collection agency, and to use forged arrest warrants to seize the victims who were then abducted and held in hideouts while the kidnap gang negotiated ransoms.
The problem for the court is that most of the victims have refused to testify. Judge Aderito Malhope said that it had been impossible to serve a summons on any of the six victims to appear in court as witnesses.
“They all claim they're outside the country, but that's not true”, the judge said. “I don't believe they are not in Mozambique.
They just don't want to collaborate in clearing up the case”.
“I am making an urgent appeal to all the victims to collaborate with the court”, he added. “I am making the same appeal to their relatives and other people who negotiated with the kidnappers, since it is difficult to try a case without the collaboration of the parties concerned”.
The court had hoped to call 11 witnesses but has only managed to summons two, both employees of one of the kidnap victims.
The reluctance of the victims to testify may be partly explained by the involvement of policemen in the kidnappings. They may fear reprisals if they give evidence against the criminals in police uniform.