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Son of Mozambique President is suspect in murder case

Prosecutors in Mozambique have recommended that the son of the President be investigated for the murder of a crusading journalist who had been looking into the country's worst banking scandal.

As a court in Maputo heard closing arguments in the murder trial yesterday, a defendant gave the latest in a series of testimonies implicating Nyimpine Chissano, eldest son of President Joacquim Chissano, as the man behind the murder of Carlos Cardoso in 2001.

Cardoso's murder shocked the former Portuguese colony. He had been a powerful force in Mozambican journalism and had campaigned vigorously for press freedom.

The month-long trial of his six alleged killers has been broadcast live on state television and radio to a transfixed nation. Yet few of the scores of poverty-stricken Mozambicans who have been converging daily at the tented courtroom in the grounds of a maximum-security prison to witness what they call the "trial of the century", believe that the case will lead to a genuine effort by the authorities to root out the rampant corruption Cardoso's death highlighted.

Cardoso was shot as he left his office in the capital. He had come close to exposing the full scandal behind the official looting of US$14m (£8.7m) from a state bank on the eve of its privatisation. He had previously exposed the looting of another state bank by politicians, officials and other influential Mozambicans who failed to repay borrowed money. Cardoso was also investigating the alleged involvement of a business associate of the President's son in a number of questionable land deals.

Three of those accused of his murder have implicated Nyimpine Chissano. The defendants startled the nation when they testified that the President's 32-year-old son, a wealthy and flamboyant man, forked out £44,000 to have him assassinated.

As the hearings wound up this week, a businessman, Momade Assife Abdul Satar, better known as Nini, who is charged with paying Cardoso's killers, testified implicating Nyimpine Chissano.

Satar had previously told the court that on Nyimpine Chissano's instructions, he paid the equivalent of £44,000 to Anibal dos Santos Jnr, who is accused of firing the shots that killed Mr Cardoso.

Nyimpine Chissano, who is not on trial, has vehemently denied organising the murder. He was subpoenaed to appear in court, where he denied any personal connection to Satar. But Satar said that mobile phone records would help prove that the two had a close relationship and they spoke very often. "These people [Nyimpine Chissano and his partner] came to this court and said they didn't know me ... Phone records prove that they are lying," he said yesterday. He said he had even been speaking with Nyimpine Chissano from prison.

Dos Santos was tried in absentia after he escaped from Maputo's maximum-security prison before the trial. Police have since questioned the Interior Minister, a close confidant of the Chissano family, to establish whether the escape was "facilitated" by somebody in authority.

Signed cheques were also produced in court as evidence that Nyimpine Chissano reimbursed the payments issued by Satar to the killers. In their closing statements prosecutors recommended that all six accused be given the maximum 24-year sentences in jail and that Nyimpine Chissano face a separate investigation into his role.

At Cardoso's funeral, President Chissano vowed that the state would do all in its powers to bring his assassins to justice. But critics say Frelimo, the ruling party, has too much to hide. "I won't be surprised if this turns out to be a smokescreen to hoodwink us into believing Frelimo is serious about eliminating corruption at the highest level ahead of a crucial election next year," Acacio Chacate, a respected academic, told The Independent.

With an average annual economic growth rate of 8 per cent, Mozambique is being hailed by the West as a potential African success story after it ended a 17-year civil war and completed a transition from a Leninist command economy to a free market economy.

But Mozambique's 16 million people remain among the poorest in the world. "This 8 per cent is all fictitious growth," said Ali Bayano, a journalist. "It's growth in the eyes of the IMF but not for ordinary Mozambicans." Several Mozambican analysts believe the growth and investments in their country have not trickled down to the poor because the investing companies have been given enormous tax concessions in exchange for huge bribes to the political elite.