Mozambique: Hidden Debts - Trial Remains Public, Insists Judge

Judge's gavel (file photo)

Maputo — Judge Efigenio Baptista, of the Maputo City court, on Thursday insisted that the current trial of 19 people accused of crimes in connection with Mozambique's "hidden debts" scandal must remain open to press and public.

The morning session began with a call by Alexandre Chivale, the lawyer for several defendants, including Ndambi Guebuza, the oldest son of former President Armando Guebuza, to limit public broadcasting of the trial.

He was speaking just before judge Baptista was due to question Ines Moiane, the private secretary of Guebuza, who remains an adviser to the former president to this day. Moiane certainly has a great deal of knowledge about the inner workings of the Guebuza presidency.

Chivale, who is also representing Moiane, called on the court to prevent television and radio stations from broadcasting her image or her voice in order "to defend her honour and her good name".

Defence lawyers had made similar calls right at the start of the trial, and Baptista had rejected them.

"The question of the public nature of this trial has already been discussed, and I don't know why you are coming back to it", said the judge. The defence could raise the matter again, but he had no intention of changing his mind.

"You can ask a thousand times, but the court is not going to alter its decision. This trial is public", he declared.

A second defence lawyer, Isalcio Mahanjane, claimed that parts of the pre-trial proceedings were invalid, because the defendant concerned, Bruno Langa, a close friend of Ndambi Guebuza, had been represented by a person who is not a member of the Mozambique Bar Association, and therefore does not qualify as a real lawyer.

Mahanjane wanted the judge to scrub from the record the initial interrogation of Bruno at the Attorney-General's Office (PGR) in January 2019, and his questioning by investigating magistrate Delio Portugal the following month.

Although it seems true that the man representing Langa on both occasions, Paulo Nhancale, was indeed not a member of the OAM (and could thus be in serious trouble for impersonating a lawyer), the prosecuting attorney Sheila Marrangula, argued that this did not invalidate either of the interrogations that Mahanjane wanted scrubbed.

When Langa was questioned at the PGR he was not yet under arrest, and the Penal Procedural Code make it obligatory for suspects to be represented by a lawyer or a public defender only when they are under arrest. Suspects who have not been detained may bring a lawyer or not, as they like.

But Langa should have been represented by a qualified lawyer at his interrogation by magistrate Delio Portugal. However, shortly afterwards he hired a recognized lawyer, who did not protest the validity of the interrogation within the five days allowed by the Procedural Code. This meant that the irregularity had been purged, said Marrengula.

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