28 February 2018

Mozambique: Trial Begins of Guards Who Facilitated Prison Escape

Maputo — The trial began in the central Mozambican city of Beira on Tuesday of six people accused of facilitating the escape of 17 prisoners from Beira Central Prison in August 2017.

Three of those who escaped were allegedly involved in a raid against a Beira branch of the country's largest commercial bank, the Millennium-BIM (International Bank of Mozambique), in which the thieves stole 27 million meticais (about 443,000 US dollars) . The three were due to go on trial the week the escape occurred.

According to a report on the independent television station STV, five of those accused of helping the prisoners escape are prison guards who were on duty the day of the breakout. The sixth is the driver of one of the two vehicles used as getaway cars.

According to the prosecution, the five guards, namely António Magube, Lucas Cobra, António Verimo, Helton Nenias and Miguel Chequessene, had been in regular contact with two of the accused in the bank robbery, named only as Marone and Manucho. The agreement they struck included smuggling a firearm into one of the cells, which was used in the escape.

The first of the accused question in court was the driver, Manuel dos Santos, who confirmed contacts with two of the guards, Antonio Verimo and Lucas Cobra. He said he gave the guards plastic bags containing 3,300 meticais intended for one of the fugitives.

Dos Santos said he had been in contact with a woman named Nene, the sister of another of the bank robbers, Moniz Bambu, who gave him 50,000 meticais to pay off two prison guards, whom he named as James and Ivan (judging by the names, they are not among those arrested).

He said that, because of the threats he had suffered, he did not mention the names of James and Ivan when he was questioned during the preliminary investigation.

Prison guard Antonio Magube told the court that, on the day of the escape, he was the officer in charge, and he gave the keys to the cells to his colleague, Lucas Cobra, who had the job of opening the cells to let the prisoners out in order for them to clean the jail and carry water to the kitchen and to the cells.

He said that, at about 07.00 he found Marone and Manucho out of their cells. They threatened him with a gun, and ordered him to hand over his firearm. He agreed, and they then broke down the prison door. It was only then, Magube claimed, that he realised a mass escape was under way.

Lucas Cobra admitted that he had opened two cells, one of which, a top security cell, should not have been opened, and where one of the accused in the bank robbery was being held. He then gave the keys to one of the inmates, supposedly to help him control the prisoners who had the task of cleaning the jail. He claimed he did not know when the other five cells from which prisoners escaped were opened.

After these confessions, the judge ordered the cancellation of Cobra's conditional freedom and his immediate detention, for fear that, if left at liberty, he might disturb the course of the investigations.

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