Maputo — The trial of three people in connection with the alleged theft of 50 million meticais (about 794,000 US dollars) from the publicly owned Mozambique Airlines (LAM), which should have begun last Friday, has been postponed to 11 February, according to a report in Wednesday's issue of the Maputo daily "Noticias".
The accused are Antonio Pinto, once the chairperson of the company's Executive Commission, Helder Fumo, its former financial director and Sheila Temporario, director of the marketing and communication company Executive Mozambique, which was responsible for publishing LAM's in-flight magazine, "Indico".
The trial was postponed when Fumo, the only one of the three out on bail rather than in preventive detention, failed to show up in court on Friday, apparently for health reasons.
At the request of the defence, the judge in the seventh section of the Maputo City Court, Rui Dauane, has now granted provisional freedom to Pinto and Temporario, both of whom are said to be ill - according to the lawyers, Pinto suffers from high blood pressure, and Temporario from a brain tumour.
Continued preventive detention, the judge said, would pose serious risks to the health of the two suspects. The prosecution was sceptical and opposed his decision.
Prosecutors allege that Pinto and Fumo were responsible for over-invoicing in the acquisition of goods and services. They are said to have hired aircraft in South Africa for prices above those normally practiced on the African aviation market.
They had also allegedly opted to purchase spare parts from a company that charged much higher prices than Embraer or Boeing, the companies that manufactured the planes flown by LAM.
As for Executive Mozambique, this company allegedly signed a marketing and communication contract with LAM for 50,000 US dollars a month for editing and publishing "Indico". This seemed an extraordinary sum for a magazine which only appears every two months, has a print run of just 15,000, and devotes many of its glossy pages to advertising.
The accusation against Executive Mozambique has been frontally denied. According to a report in the independent newssheet "Carta de Mocambique", the company says that LAM never paid a penny for the production of "Indico".
The newssheet possesses a copy of the contract between LAM and Executive Mozambique, under which the company undertook to produce the magazine free of charge. Clause 10 of the contract says that Executive Mozambique is obliged "to guarantee the production of the magazine without any kind of costs for LAM".
The company would thus have to recoup its costs through the sale of advertising space.