Maputo — The man who ordered the kidnapping last Saturday in Maputo of Indian businessman Salum Lalani, has told reporters that he had hoped to extort enough money from his victim to pay off a large debt to a man accused of drug trafficking.
The police showed the alleged brains behind the abduction, named only as Saide, to reporters on Monday, alongside a second man, who lured Lalani into the trap set by the kidnappers, outside a casino on the Maputo coast road. Both men claimed to be friends of Lalani.
The kidnappers demanded 10 million meticais (about 167,000 US dollars) from Lalani, but he said he did not have such a large sum.
Saide said that, if this ransom had been paid, seven million meticais would have been used immediately to pay off a debt to Mohammed Bachir Suleman, a notorious Mozambican business figure who owns the Maputo Shopping Centre near the city's port.
Saide said that, if he did not pay off this debt, then MBS (as Bachir is often called) would have him arrested.
I'm here because I ordered the kidnapping of the businessman, Saide admitted. I had a debt. If I didn't pay the debt, I would be imprisoned. I owe seven million meticais to the owner of the Maputo Shopping Centre.
Saide did not explain how he had come to run up such a large debt. Bachir shot to notoriety in 2010, when the US administration of the then President Barack Obama named him as a drug kingpin. The US Department of the Treasury stated that Bachir leads a well-financed narcotics trafficking and money laundering network in Mozambique that is centred on his family-owned business conglomerate Grupo MBS Limitada.
Bachir, or course, denied the US accusations, and the Mozambican Attorney-General's Office could not find enough evidence to charge him with any crime. But as of April 2018, Bachir and his companies remain on the list of drug kingpins who are under US sanctions, which mean it is illegal for any US citizens or businesses to conduct any transactions with them.
Saide, who is also of Indian nationality, said that he hired a man named only as Imo to assist in the kidnapping. When Lalani arrived in Maputo from Beira last Friday, Saide promised to pay Imo (who is currently on the run) 500,000 meticais. The money would come from the ten million demanded from the victim.
Lalani was on his way to India, but he was persuaded to spend Friday night in the casino at the Gloria Hotel on the Maputo coast road. When he left the casino at about 03.00 on Saturday morning, in the company of the unnamed friend, they were grabbed and bundled into a car. The friend was then thrown out, and the kidnappers drove Lalani to a house in the Triunfo neighbourhood, where they received the unwelcome news that Lalani did not have ten million meticais to give them.
The false friend made the mistake of not notifying the police of the kidnapping until 06.00. Intrigued by the three hour gap between the kidnapping and reporting the matter to the police, the Criminal Investigation Service interrogated the friend, and he not only confessed to his part in the crime, but told the police where the kidnappers were holding Lalani.
Saide is also clearly unaware of the Mozambican law governing debts. Regardless of what Bachir may have told him, here are no debtors' prisons in Mozambique. A senior judicial source contacted by AIM on Tuesday confirmed that nobody can be sent to jail for a commercial or private debt.
If a judge recognises the debt, then he can order seizure of the debtor's assets to clear the debt. But he has no power to imprison the debtor.