Friday, 4 June 2010


Maputo, 3 Jun (AIM) – A prominent Mozambican anti-corruption NGO, the Centre for Public Integrity (CIP), has urged the government to request from the United States authorities the evidence they have against businessman Mohamed Bachir Suleman, named on Tuesday by President Barack Obama as a drug baron.

Using the evidence gathered by the American law enforcement agencies, the Mozambican authorities can then take measures against Bachir under Mozambican law, CIP declares, in an article signed by its director, Marcelo Mosse.

“It’s a question of honour for Mozambican citizens”, declares Mosse. “It’s the least that President Guebuza can do to protect our dignity”.

With the White House designating Bachir as a drug baron, “the mask has fallen” from Bachir’s business empire, Mosse writes.

He recalls that Bachir started out as the owner of modest shops selling printed fabrics (“capulanas”) in the northern province of Nampula. Yet in the 1990s he rose to become a major player on the Mozambican business stage. He founded the Kayum Centre, which for a time was the main supplier of electrical appliances to the Maputo market.

In downtown Maputo, he then built an impressive shopping mall. This, the Maputo Shopping Centre, is said to have cost 32 million dollars. Was this money obtained from legitimate sources, such as bank loans?

With the end of the war of destabilisation in 1992, the borders were open, and it became much easier to move around Mozambique. Facing only a small and weak police force, organised crime moved in. By the mid-1990s, Mosse writes, the country “was completely submerged in the mesh of organised crime. With the frontiers open, and the repressive and vigilant power of the state reduced, the temptation for easy money emerged, and the country became a route for drug traffickers”.

Drug scandals erupted repeatedly. Thus in 1995, two trucks were seized carrying no less than 40 tonnes of hashish. Yet the only person ever convicted over this drugs haul was the driver of one of the vehicles. The owners of the hashish were never brought to trial.

One serious incident (not mentioned by Mosse) was the discovery, in September 1995, of a laboratory producing the drug mandrax in the southern city of Matola. Ten Indian and Pakistani citizens working at the laboratory were arrested. Obviously they could have led the police to their employers. Yet they were mysteriously released, by the Maputo provincial attorney, Luis Muthisse (who later lost his job).

The lawyer for the ten Asians was Maximo Dias, who refused to tell reporters who was paying his fees, since near penniless Indians from the streets of Bombay clearly cannot afford the services of a skilled and experienced lawyer. The services of Maximo Dias are in great demand – he is now the lawyer for Bachir.

In 2001, Mosse co-authored an article on money-laundering, corruption and organised crime in Mozambique, which spoke of criminal penetration into the police, the customs service and the legal system. The article warned that the Mozambican state was in danger of being captured by organised crime.

Mosse recalls that in some quarters he was accused of being “anti-patriotic” or in the service of foreign interests. But by then it was impossible to deny the reach of organised crime – for on 22 November 2000, the country’s most prominent investigative journalist, Carlos Cardoso, was gunned down in the streets of Maputo.

This was a crime too far. The outcry, in Mozambique and abroad, plus the work of some honest policemen and prosecutors, led to the dismantling of one mafia network, the Abdul Satar crime family, and the men who ordered Cardoso’s murder are now serving long jail sentences.

The assassination of the interim chairperson of the debt-ridden Austral Bank, Antonio Siba-Siba Macuacua, in August 2001, underlined still further the threat posed by organised crime. But to date nobody has been tried for that murder, or for the looting of the Austral Bank.

Mosse notes that criminal bosses have tried to cultivate ties with the ruling Frelimo Party. Embarrassing photos exist of one of the Cardoso murderers, loan shark Momad Assife Abul Satar, handing over a donation to Frelimo.

MBS also assiduously cultivated good relations with Frelimo. Bachir is a member of Frelimo and has given generous, and very public, financial support to the party. Bachir claims that he has received nothing in return.

Mosse doubts this and accuses MBS of evading customs duties. The goods imported for sale in MBS shops never pass through the scanners at Maputo port, he charges.

But at his Wednesday night press conference Bachir said that containers full of his imports are always scanned. This is something which the customs service, and the company that operates the scanners, Kudumba Investments, should confirm or deny – preferably with documentary evidence. Such evidence should exist, since every importer must pay Kudumba for the scanning service.

Some months ago, Mosse recalls, MBS obtained from the state an area belonging to the Mozambican navy, directly in front of the Maputo Shopping Centre. This is where the Shopping Centre will install its car park. Although this is a valuable piece of land in the heart of Maputo, there was no public tender.

Mosse warns that the naming by the Obama administration of Suleman as a drug baron “is a huge blow that Mozambique has suffered because of its reluctance to fight against corruption and organised crime with its head held high”.

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