Maputo — Retired Mozambican Supreme Court judge Joao Carlos Trindade has described the conditional release of Momade Assife Abdul Satar (“Nini”), after only serving half his sentence for the murder in 2000 of investigative journalist Carlos Cardoso, as “the height of the promiscuity in the judicial system”.
Interviewed in the latest issue of the independent weekly “Savana”, Trindade argued that Satar remains a dangerous criminal who should never have been granted early release.
Satar was sentenced in January 2003 to 24 years imprisonment for his part in the Cardoso murder. He, and the other five men convicted, were also ordered to pay compensation equivalent to 588,000 US dollars to Cardoso's two children.
Trindade is intimately familiar with the case since he was one of the three Supreme Court judges who heard, and rejected, Satar's appeal. In a 74 page ruling, the three judges reaffirmed the initial verdict and sentence, as “just and balanced”.
But, after serving just half his sentence, Satar was released on parole in 2014, even though he had not paid a penny in compensation to Cardoso's children. After only a few months of freedom in Maputo, Satar applied for permission to leave the country for medical treatment in India, and the same Maputo city judge who granted him parole, Aderito Malhope, authorized his departure. He has never returned.
He did not set foot in India, but went to Europe, and on his Facebook page claimed to be living in London, and boasted of visiting cities such as Monaco, Paris and Geneva.
Mozambican prosecutors, who had never agreed with the decision to grant parole, argued that Satar is deeply involved in other crimes, most notably the wave of kidnappings of businessmen, mostly of Asian origin, that hit Mozambican cities as from 2011. Satar is believed to have organized some of these crimes while still in jail, since he never had any difficulty in communicating with the outside world.
Finally, in April, his parole was revoked and the Mozambican Attorney General's Office issued an international arrest warrant against him.
While in Europe, Satar has fired off a string of insulting articles and Facebook posts against prominent lawyers, journalists and judges, including Trindade.
Asked about these attacks, Trindade replied “Let it be clear that Nini Satar is a criminal condemned by the law of the Republic of Mozambique. I am pleased that a criminal writes this sort of thing against me. I regard it as praise”.
“He may think he is trying to denigrate my career”, he continued, “but, on the contrary, he is praising me, since the facts clearly show that he is the one who ends up looking ridiculous”.
Trindade said it was impossible to understand how somebody as dangerous as Satar could be granted parole. A basic condition for parole is good behavior in prison - but Satar was notorious for violating prison regulations, particularly through the repeated smuggling of mobile phones into his cell, which enabled him “to continue committing crimes”.
“So Nini Satar did not have the right to parole”, Trindade added. “I am amazed that he benefitted from this right”.
The release of Satar, and his apparent continued access to figures in the police and the judiciary, sent “a very worrying signal about how state structures are functioning. With this type of example, how can we say that the justice situation is good? The release of Satar shows the promiscuity of our judiciary”.
Trindade summarized the current state of the Mozambican legal system as “mediocre for reasons that almost all of society knows or can see in the media. I am talking about the violation of ethical principles, acts that are contrary to good practices, the sale or distortion of court sentences, and the questionable quality of judicial decisions, among other vices”.
But he drew the line at the outright statement last month by former Justice Minister Benvinda Levi that magistrates have become criminals and receive protection from their colleagues. Trindade thought that Levi's claims were too sweeping.
“I would be more cautious”, he said, “because such statements offend not only those who really are criminals, but also honest professionals. What was wrong about her statement was that it generalized matters. Our magistracy does contain competent and honest cadres, and we must give them moral and material support”.
There were criminals inside the judiciary, Trindade said, but there were also criminals in all other sectors of the state.
Trindade attacked political interference in the legal system - particularly a decision taken by the previous government, under President Armando Guebuza, to speed up the training of judges and prosecutors to levels that he regarded as unsustainable.
At the time, he had been director of the Legal and Judicial Training Centre (CFJJ) and knew that the demands for “mass training” of magistrates were unreasonable.
“The training of competent staff has its own specific nature and is not compatible with political decisions”, Trindade said. “Great care must be taken in training, because judges should be exemplary in terms of knowledge and ethics, since they are taking decisions about the lives, the property and the freedom of citizens”.
In 2007, the government told the CFJJ to increase the number of judges and prosecutors trained to 100 a year - despite an earlier decision by the Centre that with its current premises, equipment and teachers, it could only train 30 to 35 people a year. This might be stretched to 50, but 100 “was complicated since it broke the principles and strict criteria for access, and would lead to relaxing the quality of teaching”.
The government did not accept these arguments, and so Trindade resigned from the CFJJ. “Political interests mutilated the project”, he said.
His criticisms extended to higher education as a whole, and to the ease with which it is possible to open private universities, including law faculties.
“Over the past decade, higher education has become more of a business than an activity to train cadres for the country”, Trindade accused. “The State has been authorizing the opening of faculties on any street corner”.
As a result law courses “have been trivialized. The country does not have the facilities or the teaching staff to train so many people. The result is the extremely poor technical quality of the cadres who come out of those faculties”.