Who Wants to Kill Albano Silva and Why?

Carlos Cardoso was a fearless and hardworking investigative journalist who dedicated his life to exposing injustice and corruption in Mozambique and in Africa. Originally a strong supporter of the Marxist-Leninist government that took office in 1975 after Mozambique’s independence from Portugal, Cardoso became increasingly disillusioned with the rapacity of officials after the country transitioned to democracy in 1994. In 2000, Cardoso, 49, was murdered after uncovering a bank fraud involving prominent Mozambican businessmen protected by the police and the judiciary system. He is still remembered as a hero. Born in 1951 in Beira in the centre of Mozambique, Cardoso began his journalistic career in South Africa. While a student at Wits University in Johannesburg during the 1970s, he wrote extensively against the then-ruling apartheid government, which led to his deportation to Portugal on the eve of Mozambique’s independence in 1975. Cardoso was invited back to Mozambique soon after the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) took power. As a reporter at the state-run magazine Tempo in 1976, he became known for his meticulous investigative reporting and his emphasis on nation building and social justice. Cardoso ‘fought for a journalism of invention, a journalism that was openly political and ideological,’ remembered his colleague Paul Fauvet.

Cardoso also continued his campaign against the apartheid governments in Rhodesia and South Africa, which caused tension with South Africa and often made conservative members of FRELIMO uncomfortable. Cardoso’s close intellectual relationship with the first Mozambican president, the charismatic Samora Moisés Machel, allowed him to continue with this work. He eventually became a close adviser of Machel’s, even if the two didn’t always agree.

When Machel died in 1986 in a bizarre aviation accident, which Carlos Cardoso investigated (See Page XX), socialism in Mozambique died too. Cardoso became deeply disillusioned with the rise of a neoliberal economy run by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Cardoso ended up leaving AIM, the government’s information agency, in 1989, which he had led since 1987, and dedicating himself to poetry and painting. After private media were legalised and censorship outlawed in 1991, he joined Mediacoop, the country’s first independent cooperative of journalists, founded by some of the biggest names in Mozambican journalism. Mediacoop conducted groundbreaking investigations of corruption and the country’s economy. Cardoso focused especially on defending Mozambique’s domestic industries against detrimental Bretton Woods policies backed by the new government. The cooperative also drew attention to the decaying moral fabric of Mozambican society, where theft and bribery had become common practice. Cardoso’s articles, published in Mediafax, Mediacoop’s daily news sheet, quickly became famous for their quality and his dogged determination to follow stories wherever they led.

Despite the popularity of Mediafax, Cardoso eventually left due to an internal disagreement. He formed a similar daily fax sheet named after Mozambique’s currency, Metical, dedicated mainly to economic issues. At Metical, Cardoso investigated land-grabbing allegations against the thenfirst lady, wife of former president Joaquim Chissano; the obscure business manoeuvres of the president’s son, Nyimpine Chissano; the local treatment of toxic waste; and organised crime activities in Mozambique. He wrote fierce editorials against the ‘gangsterisation of the economy’ by political and business elites.

Cardoso also began probing the largest bank fraud in Mozambique’s history, the theft of US$14 million from the Commercial Bank of Mozambique (BCM). Cardoso had investigated the privatisation of the two public banks, BCM in 1996 and the People’s Development Bank (BPD) in 1997. Focusing on BCM, Cardoso revealed that the buying consortium, headed by the Portuguese Mello bank, had been put together by Portuguese businessman António Simões, who owned two companies in Mozambique, Cardoso wrote articles questioning US$17 million in loans, never repaid, that Simões’s companies had received from the BCM between 1992 and 1994. Cardoso speculated that Simões had used them to buy his share of the bank.

The BCM scandal had begun before its privatisation. In 1996, private accounts opened by the Satar brothers, notorious loan sharks in Mozambique, were drained of US$14 million. The bank transactions were made possible by a BCM branch manager, Vicente Ramaya. The fraud was detected in 1996, but the investigation was blocked. Cardoso dwelt relentlessly on this case and on 9 May 2000, he dedicated an entire issue of Metical to the illicit activities of the Satars. He was becoming a liability for the influential businessmen and state officials involved.

On 22 November 2000, Carlos Cardoso was shot dead on his way home from work. The trial that followed was the first ever conducted in open court and televised live. All six accused – the Satar brothers, Ramaya, and three hit men – received the maximum penalty, but the president’s son, Nyimpine Chissano, whose key involvement in the murder was revealed during the trial, escaped punishment. Cardoso was posthumously awarded a number of journalism prizes, including the 2000 Index Courage in Journalism award, sponsored by The Economist, in 2001.

Today, Mozambique is enjoying a mining and natural gas boom. Concerns about the misuse of the revenues it is bringing have reached new heights. But, still struggling to fulfil its role as watchdog, the media are starting to show promising glimmers of hope. Thanks to new media technology, bloggers, citizen reporting, and dedicated newspapers like @Verdade and SAVANA, a new generation of investigative reporters is emerging, ready to take up Cardoso’s vision. He remains an inspiration to all.

The Tip of the Iceberg: Who Wants to Kill Albano Silva and Why?
Carlos Cardoso, Metical, 1999

The assassination attempt on the lawyer Albano Silva on Monday seems to be only the tip of the iceberg, whose explosion will be felt by the judicial, police and financial apparatus in the country. It is about the $14 million theft at BCM that the lawyer was investigating. It happened around 8:30 p.m. on Monday. Albano Silva was driving on Mao Tse Tung, in the direction of Julius Nyerere.

He was driving at around forty to fifty kilometres per hour with the window on his side open. As he passed the student residence between Amilcar Cabral and the third police station, a small dark car approached from his right. Moments later, the passenger in front brandished a Makarov and fired at close range. Miraculously, the bullet missed the lawyer and smashed the back window on the opposite side. Albano immediately pulled up by the sidewalk, where a group of students had witnessed the incident. Soon after, officers from the third police station showed up. Yesterday, one of the students told Metical: ‘We were watching television when, suddenly, we heard a bang. Initially, it sounded like a tire explosion but when we looked outside the window we saw a man parking his car and he looked very worried. He left the car door open and ran to the residence asking for help. He was very worried and asked us to take him to the police station.

The same student added: ‘Before we went to call the police, Dr. Albano Silva asked us to go to his car and get his briefcase, which was open, and a cellphone. We did that and then called the police. After he went to the station, a team from the criminal investigation police (PIC) came by. We don’t know what happened afterward.’ Yesterday morning, a police official from the third police station stated that he was not authorized to talk, but he offered two facts: he confirmed the presence of the lawyer at the station around 8:45 p.m. and declared that the two policemen on duty that night were surprised how quickly two SAVANA reporters had made it to the area. ‘They appeared within three or five minutes and wanted to speak to Dr. Albano Silva himself, but he refused. Afterward they tried to photograph the car but we didn’t allow it.’ The two SAVANA reports were journalist Paulo Machava and photographer José Mathlombe. The latter told Metical yesterday that ‘we were alerted by a witness. And what the commander is saying about us trying to take pictures is a lie because there is no way we can take photographs at night when the flash is not connected to the camera. I only showed Paulo Machava the car window of Dr. Albano Silva’s car, which was broken by the bullet. This is more or less what happened.’

According to another source, one of the eyewitnesses got into a car and took off in the direction of the SAVANA headquarters. In his opinion, this might explain the swift arrival of reporters at the 3rd police station …

A little bit of the rest of the iceberg

What could be behind this attempt, which took place barely three months after the lawyer suffered an odd armed robbery in Maputo? Could it be the Kapendra case, as suggested by a couple of his friends? The Mcbride case? A combination of all the difficult cases he has taken on? The main suspicion falls on the BCM case, the famous $14 million fraud that remains unsolved. Yesterday, Albano Silva indicated to the police that he viewed the Satar brothers – Momade Assif, Ayob, and Asslam Abdul Satar (the latter currently not in the country) – owners of the currency exchange business ‘Unicâmbios,’ as the main suspects behind the attempt. Yesterday we heard from Ayob Abdul Satar. He denied any kind of involvement. ‘Dr. Albano Silva is the bank’s lawyer, as everybody knows. This does not mean he is our enemy. We have nothing against him. We are really sorry for what happened.’ When probed about the lawyer’s suspicions, Ayob retorted: ‘Dr. Albano Silva needs to substantiate his claims. It is not enough to say that he has suspicions. We deplore what happened. Like him, we want the truth to emerge.’ In response to one of our questions, he said that as of yesterday at 12:30 p.m., when the brief contact with Metical took place, the police hadn’t contacted him.

The BCM case is explosive. In total, the investigation focuses on twenty people: the three Satar brothers, the manager of the BCM Sommerschield branch, Vincente Norotam, various Criminal Investigation Police agents, and five prosecutors (for withholding evidence and bribery), three of them from the Republic’s Attorney General. Two of the investigations requested by BCM focus on the former attorney general, Sinai Nhatitima, and on the current one, António Namburete.

Last week, during the national judiciary meeting of the Public Administration, Albano Silva, who was attending as a guest, was able to talk after a brief debate on whether a guest should be able to voice his opinion. He spoke little. They cut him off, arguing that it was not in the tradition of these encounters to discuss specific cases. But he spoke enough to inform all that the prosecutors that there was, in his opinion, enough evidence in the BCM case to incriminate leading figures of the Public Administration.