Mozambique: Vilanculos Murder - Alleged Death Squad Driver Re-Arrested

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Maputo — The Mozambican prison service (SERNAP) announced on Tuesday the recapture of Abdul Tembe, one of the men suspected of involvement in the assassination of Maputo prosecutor, Marcelino Vilanculos in April 2016.

Tembe was found in jail in the central city of Chimoio where he was serving a 12 year sentence for completely different crimes (aggravated theft, possession of prohibited weapons, and membership of a criminal association), committed under the assumed name of Lucio Antonio Ferreira.

SERNAP said that the identification and recapture of Tembe took place in coordination with the other branches of the administration of justice. He should now be returned to Maputo to stand trial for his part in the Vilanculos murder.

Abdul Tembe became Lucio Ferreira after he escaped from the Maputo top security prison on 24 October. He was believed to have driven the vehicle used by the death squad who assassinated Vilanculos.

To date, just one man has been jailed for the murder. In January 2018, the Maputo Provincial Court, sitting in the city of Matola, sentenced Amad Antonio Mabunda to 24 years imprisonment for the murder.

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 for other crimes 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 during a thunderstorm in October 2016. The director of the prison, Castigo Machaieie, and eight prison guards were detained on suspicion of facilitating Tembe's escape.

We now know that, under his assumed name of Lucio Ferreira, Tembe made his way to the central province of Zambezia, where he continued his career of crime. He was caught and sentenced to 12 years, which he was serving in the main penitentiary for central Mozambque, in Chimoio.

As for the supposed brain behind the Vilankulos murder, Jose Coutinho, in April 2017 he 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, immobilizing 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 by the Maputo Provincial Court which found there was not enough evidence to tie her to the assassination.

The prosecution had argued that she provided the death squad with information on the movements of Vilanculos. 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 (about 8,400 US dollars, at the exchange rate of the time).

Tbhe prosecution appealed against Cylindo's acquittal - and won. The appeals court threw out the original verdict and sentenced Cylindo to 22 years imprisonment. Her behaviour, the court found, had facilitated the murder. She had participated in act that contributed directly to the preparation and execution of the crime.

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

In January 2003, the Maputo City Court found that Satar was one of the three business figures who had ordered the murder, in November 2000, of the country's foremost investigative journalist, Carlos Cardoso. Satar was sentenced to 24 years and six months 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 prison.

Police and prosecutors, however, 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.

Satar was allowed to go abroad for medical treatment, but he never returned, thus breaking the terms of his parole and becoming a fugitive. His parole was revoked, and he was re-arrested in Thailand in July 2018. He is now back in a Maputo jail, serving the rest of his sentence for the Cardoso murder.

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