29 January 2018

Mozambique: Assassin Sentenced to 24 Years for Murder of Prosecutor

The Maputo Provincial Court, sitting in the city of Matola, on 26 January sentenced Amad Antonio Mabunda to 24 years imprisonment for the murder of prominent prosecutor, Marcelino Vilanculos, in April 2016.

Although Vilanculos lived in Matola, he worked in the Maputo City branch of the Public Prosecutor's Office, where he was one of the key prosecutors working on the spate of kidnappings of wealthy business people that had struck the city since late 2011.

The Matola court accepted the prosecution case that the motive for the murder was to obstruct the investigations into the kidnappings.

The three man death squad that murdered Vilanculos was led by Jose Ali Coutinho. He recruited the two others, Mabunda, who fired the fatal shots, and Abdul Tembe, who drove the car. The three met each other when they were all serving terms in the Maputo top security prison.

All three were arrested - but by the time of the trial only Mabunda was still in custody. Tembe escaped from Maputo Central Prison during a thunderstorm on the night of 24 October 2016. The director of the prison, Castigo Machaieie, and eight prison guards were detained on suspicion of facilitating Tembe's escape. Tembe has not been seen since the escape.

On 24 April last year Coutinho was sprung from custody. Coutinho and a second prisoner, Alfredo Muchanga (not believed to be associated with the Vilankulos murder) were taken from their cells in the Maputo City Police Command, and driven towards a Maputo police station, where they were to be interrogated in connection with alleged attempts to sabotage the security system in their cells. Before they could reach their destination, the vehicle, belonging to the Criminal Investigation Police (PIC), was ambushed by a group of four armed men, all wearing hoods.

The assailants fired more than 20 shots, mostly at the tyres of the police vehicle, immobilising it. The two policemen in the car, a Land Cruiser, fled for their lives, allowing the gangsters to rescue Coutinho and Muchanga. But it soon turned out that this was not an escape at all: three days later, the bodies of Coutinho and Muchanga were found in a shallow grave in Moamba district, about 60 kilometres north of Maputo. Coutinho had not been released - he had been silenced.

An alleged accomplice in the murder, Edith D'Campta da Câmara Cylindo, was also tried. Although this was technically a separate case, the Maputo Provincial Court also delivered its verdict. Judge Samuel Artur found there was not enough evidence to tie Cylindo to the assassination.

The prosecution had argued that she had provided the death squad with information on the movements of Vilanculos. The prosecution said she had been contacted by Coutinho, to help the death squad identify the victim. So not only did she follow the prosecutor's car, but she also photographed Vilanculos, and gave the photos to Coutinho. According to the prosecution, after the murder Coutinho paid Cylindo 500,000 meticais (US$8,400).

The judge, however, ruled that the prosecution had not produced enough evidence to convict Cylindo.

Notably absent from the trial was whoever gave Coutinho his orders. The prosecutors believed that Coutinho was closely linked with Momad Assife Abdul Satar (better known as "Nini"), and that both were connected to the wave of kidnappings.

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