8 November 2018

Mozambique: Appeals Court Rules That Nini Satar Will Stay in Jail

Maputo — The Maputo Higher Appeals Court has rejected an appeal from Mozambique's most notorious assassin, Momad Assife Abdul Satar ("Nini"), and has backed an earlier dispatch from the Maputo City Court revoking his parole, reports Thursday's issue of the Maputo daily "Noticias".

Satar became infamous for his part in one of the country's major bank frauds, and in the assassination of the country's top investigative journalist, Carlos Cardoso.

In 1996, members of the Abdul Satar family, and their associate, bank manager Vicente Ramaya, stole the equivalent of 14 million US dollars from the country's largest bank, the BCM, on the eve of its privatisation.

Cardoso campaigned tirelessly for the BCM case to go to trial, and named those responsible for the crime in the pages of the daily newsheet he edited, "Metical". The campaign in which Cardoso played such a prominent role led the then President, Joaquim Chissano, to restructure the Attorney-General's Office (PGR), removing the shield of impunity which the Abdul Satar family had enjoyed.

Cardoso paid for this with his life. Nini Satar, his brother Ayob, and Vicente Ramaya, hired a three member hit squad to murder Cardoso. He was gunned down as he was leaving his office n 22 November 2000.

The outrage was such that a serious investigation was launched and the culprits were brought to trial. In January 2003, the Maputo City Court found that Nini Satar was one of those who had ordered the murder. He was sentenced to 24 years imprisonment, but was released on parole in 2014 after serving just half his sentence, on the ground that he had shown "good behaviour" while in the Maputo top security prison.

In 2004, in a separate trial, he was found guilty of the BCM fraud, and sentenced to a further 14 years - but he never served a day of this sentence.

Police and prosecutors, however, were angered by Satar's early release. They were convinced that, far from being a model inmate, Satar had been active, from his prison cell, in planning other crimes, including the kidnappings of business people. Satar never had any problem in acquiring cell phones, even though such devices are not allowed inside prisons.

Furthermore, Satar never paid a penny of the compensation to Cardoso's children ordered by the Maputo court, and which was an integral part of his sentence.

Satar was charged in a 2013 kidnap case - but the presiding judge scrubbed his name from the list of suspects. That same Maputo judge, Aderito Malhope, later in 2014, authorised Satar's request to travel abroad, supposedly for medical treatment, though it was not stated what condition he suffered from which required treatment outside of Mozambique.

He claimed he was going to India, but Satar never set foot in that country.

The PGR continued to investigate Satar's connections with the kidnappings and his name was on the charge sheet in two cases opened in early 2017. During these investigations, said a PGR statement of April 2017, "it was found that the accused, Momad Assife Abdul Satar, formed a criminal organization with the purpose of kidnapping Mozambican citizens, so that later large amounts of money in ransom could be demanded".

In light of these findings, the PGR issued an international arrest warrant, and asked the Maputo City Court to revoke Satar's parole status. The City Court agreed and cancelled Satar's parole in a dispatch dated 21 April 2017. From that moment, Satar became a fugitive.

With the assistance of Interpol, Satar was tracked down to Thailand, where he was arrested on 25 July this year, and swiftly deported to Maputo.

Subsequently, Satar tried to regain his parole status, and claimed that the City Court had misinterpreted the facts of his case. But the three judges on the Appeals Court found multiple reasons for denying parole.

In their ruling, they said that, while on parole, Satar had sent messages to two people suspected of murder and kidnapping, namely Jose Coutinho and Edith Cylindo - a fact which Satar himself admitted.

Coutinho was arrested in 2016, accused of leading the three man death squad that assassinated Marcelino Vilanculos, a Maputo prosecutor who had been investigating the kidnappings.

On 24 April 2017, Coutinho was apparently sprung from custody, when a group of four armed men ambushed the police vehicle in which he was being transported. Three days later, Coutinho's body was found in a shallow grave about 60 kilometres north of Maputo. The purpose of the ambush had not been to release Coutinho, but to silence him forever.

The second person named, Edith Cylindo, was also charged with involvement in the Vilanculos assassination, but was acquitted in January 2018 when the judge found there was not enough evidence to tie her to the killing.

The prosecution 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. But with Coutinho dead, the prosecution was unable to convince the judge of this.

The Appeals Court also noted that, while on parole, Satar had used his Facebook page to transmit defamatory messages against public figures, notably magistrates (such as the judge who had convicted him of the Cardoso murder, Augusto Paulino).

Waging libellous campaigns, the judges said, is incompatible with benefitting from parole. They also noted that Satar has never presented any medical reports on his state of health, although his sole justification for leaving the country in 2014 was for medical treatment abroad.

All of this, they said, meant there was no doubt that Satar "committed acts that are not in compliance with the obligations imposed during parole, and which justify revoking parole".

Satar must now serve the rest of his sentence for the Cardoso murder. In addition kidnapping charges against him have been reinstated, and he also faces new charges of forging documents, use of a false name and corruption, arising from his use in Thailand of a false Mozambican passport.

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