Mozambique: Threats posed by the penetration of criminal networks

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ISS Regional Seminar


Organised crime, corruption and governance

in the SADC Region


Pretoria, 18 and 19 April 2002








Mozambique: Threats posed by the penetration of criminal networks



Peter Gastrow and Marcelo Mosse

















Mozambique: Threats posed by the penetration of criminal networks



It would be an understatement to describe the past three decades in Mozambique as a period of transition. This would not capture the magnitude of the fundamental and tumultuous political, social and economic changes the country has experienced. Since the early 1970s, Mozambique has veered from one extreme to the other. Portuguese colonial rule ceased in 1975, ending a system of subjugation and colonial-capitalism. The new head of state, Samora Machel, immediately set about fundamentally transforming his country into a one-party socialist system with a centrally planned economy. The state sought to perform all the roles in the economy, from traditional social services to the production and distribution of goods and services. This was the revolutionary phase, during which the state strove towards egalitarianism.


The result was a serious collapse of the economy and deepening internal political divisions that developed into a civil war between the Renamo rebels, as they were then, and the Frelimo government. This debilitating conflict, which was to last for more than ten years, resulted in a devastated countryside, the destruction of infrastructure, and the displacement of millions of rural people. In 1987 Mozambique embarked on a new course aimed at transforming the planned economy into a market economy and at moving away from one-party rule to a multi-party democracy. But the ongoing civil war prevented progress towards these objectives; as a result, social dislocation and the destruction of infrastructure continued. Only after the end of the civil war in 1992, and more specifically after the first democratic elections in 1994, was stability restored in Mozambique. However, the protracted civil war and the failed socialist experiment had resulted in extreme poverty and a damaged economy. According to World Bank figures, Mozambique was the poorest country in the world during the mid-1990s in terms of GDP per head.1


After 1994 the country went through a remarkable recovery phase. As stability began to be restored and the country moved towards a market economy, investment returned and Mozambique became one of the fastest growing economies in the world, albeit it from a low base. Today the economic outlook is still favourable and the country’s real GDP growth is expected to remain high, averaging 9 per cent per year during the period 2001–2003.2


However, Mozambique remains one of the world's poorest countries. The government still lacks the capacity to provide the most basic services to the majority of the population (which totals about 19 104 696), two-thirds of who live in absolute poverty. During 2000, 70 per cent of the total adult population and 76 per cent of all women could neither read nor write, and the average life expectancy was only 46 years. According to the 2001 Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which measures countries’ achievements in terms of life expectancy, educational attainment and adjusted real income, Mozambique is placed in the category of ‘low human development’. It is therefore regarded as constituting part of the group of ‘least developed countries’, which, in the SADC region, include Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Angola and Malawi. These all form part of the 20 least-developed and poorest countries of the 162 that are listed in the UNDP index.3



Mozambique has a coastline that stretches 2 470 kilometers along the Indian Ocean, and land boundaries of 4 571 kilometers. From a security perspective such extensive borders are difficult to control, even for the most developed and well-resourced countries.


While it is clear that Samora Machel’s socialist experiment was a failure, his rule was characterised by a determination to weed out self-enrichment and corruption. He defended the interests of the poor and was the critical conscience of the state. He is remembered for the conviction with which he delivered statements such as:


Material, moral and ideological corruption, bribery, the search for self comfort, nepotism, that is, favours on the ground of particular friendship or preferences in job allocation, favouring family members, friends or people from his own place are part of the system of life that we want to destroy ... Everyone who diverts from our political line will have no tolerance from us. We will be intransigent ... We will not hesitate to expose them to people harmed by their behaviour.”4


When Machel died in 1986, this element of principled leadership disappeared. According to the late Carlos Cardoso, the former editor of Metical, the army became corrupt, crime increased, and leading figures in the governing Frelimo party were linked to corruption and drug traffickers to an ever greater extent.5 The degree of ‘pragmatism’ that was required by party functionaries to make the radical shift from a centrally planned towards a liberal market economy resulted in many also becoming more ‘pragmatic’ about transparency, accountability and ethical standards. This ability to adapt led to a form of ‘radical pragmatism’ within the ruling elite. ‘Mozambique has a “rule of arrangements” and not a rule of law system’, Cardoso claimed.


In different parts of the world, periods of transition from one-party socialist rule towards a multi-party democracy and a market economy have tended to provide an environment that is conducive to the expansion of organised crime. The same occurred in Mozambique. The social control mechanisms introduced under socialist rule, which included measures that encouraged people’s participation in the decision-making process and held government officials accountable for their actions, collapsed and were replaced by weak state structures that could provide only symbolic safety and security to a population that was left to fend for itself.


Today Mozambique’s criminal justice system continues to be very fragile and under-resourced. There is a lack of political will to fight organised crime and corruption, and a general perception that some of the political elite are either involved in or are connected with organised crime. The police do not have the human or material capacity to control the coastline or land borders. Organised criminal groups have exploited this environment and have made the country a haven for international drug smuggling, in particular.


Organised crime in Mozambique

This paper focuses on some of the more prominent organised criminal activities that constitute a threat to Mozambique and does not attempt to cover all forms of organised crime. The more threatening criminal groups appear to be those involved in transnational organised crime. These are groups and networks whose members and criminal activities are not confined to Mozambique, but that also extend to other countries including Portugal, Brazil, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Dubai and South Africa. Among the more prominent of these groups are those that are linked to drug trafficking, money laundering, trafficking in human organs, stolen motor vehicles, illegal firearms, and the obstruction of justice.

Drug trafficking

The trafficking of drugs became important in Mozambique during the 1990s when the big international drug dealers started to look for alternative routes that were not controlled by the international agencies. During the extended civil war it had not been possible to use Mozambique as a transit route for drugs, but when the war ended in 1992 the country became attractive as a secure trans-shipment area for drug smugglers. Communications were re-established, state structures were weak, and the government encouraged international investment. In addition, Mozambique had a long coastline with many islands. The low salaries of state employees made it easy to corrupt elements within the police and other branches of the civil service.


The volume of illicit drugs consumed within Mozambique remains a minuscule portion of the volume that is trans-shipped through the country. However, local drug consumption, particularly in the capital Maputo, is becoming a growing social and security problem. A speech by the Minister of the Interior to Parliament during April 2001 underlined this: the Minister reported that the police had struck at parts of the city so notorious for the sale of illicit drugs that they are popularly known as ‘Columbias’. One such ‘Columbia’ was in the military neighbourhood where demobilised soldiers were involved in the drugs trade. The minister mentioned that the police had arrested 168 drug dealers and users, and seized 99 packages of hashish, 320 grams of cocaine, and 30 doses of heroine.6


According to sources interviewed in Mozambique, there appear to be at least two large transnational drug networks operating in the country.7 The one, involving individuals from Colombia, Chile, Spain and other parts of Europe, focuses on trafficking in cocaine and uses Mozambique as a transit area. The second group, which has been active in Mozambique since about 1992, consists largely of Pakistanis and Mozambican citizens belonging to the local Pakistani community. They concentrate mainly on Hashish and mandrax.


It is difficult to establish whether the illegal trade in drugs in Mozambique is expanding. Police statistics are not of much assistance in this regard: they suggest that the situation is under control because there have not been significantly more prosecutions for drug trafficking. They do emphasise, however, that there has been an increase in the trafficking of Cannabis sativa. Two recent official reports also do not throw much light on the subject. One, a cabinet report dated April 2000, does not say much about the trafficking of drugs such as cocaine or hashish but focuses on issues relating to drug consumption. The second report, dealing with crime in the country during the past five years and produced by the General Command of Police of Mozambique, contains very little information about drug trafficking.8



The cocaine traffickers appear to have been singularly successful. It is estimated that during 2001 more than one tonne of cocaine and heroin passed through Mozambique.9 This illicit trade is not targeted at the Mozambique market but is mainly aimed at re-routing the cocaine to markets in developed countries. While some consumption does take place in Mozambique, the country is too poor to provide a profitable consumer market for cocaine. However, Mozambique does offer a relatively low-risk transit area for the onward distribution of the cocaine to other parts of the world. The annual retail value of this drug is about 50 million US dollars. Some of the profits arising from this transaction, an estimated 2.5 million US dollars, remain in Mozambique.10


The cocaine originates in Colombia and is transported via Brazil to Mozambique, mainly by aircraft. Airport and harbour controls are weak. Some of the cocaine is then transported on smaller executive jet planes via other African countries such as Nigeria. Sometimes diplomats in official cars meet the arriving executive jets. Senior politicians and officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are allegedly also involved. A reliable source interviewed in Mozambique referred to a court case in which the evidence showed that an embassy post box was used as the receiving address for the cocaine. In this particular case, half a kilogram of cocaine was involved.11


Most of the onward trafficking of cocaine from Mozambique appears to be run by Nigerian criminal networks. They allegedly have their own planes and are connected with senior people in the Mozambican political establishment.12 Reference was made to a very wealthy Nigerian who resides in New York but is involved in cocaine trafficking in Mozambique. From Mozambique the cocaine is shipped on, mainly to Europe and East Asia and to a lesser extent South Africa, which has an expanding market for cocaine. This expanding market has encouraged some of the international cocaine smugglers to establish operations in South Africa.

Heroin is transported from Pakistan to Dubai, then to Tanzania, and from there to Mozambique, from where it is trans-shipped, mainly to Europe. More particulars could not be obtained.

Hashish (Cannabis resin)

A well-organised criminal group, consisting mainly of Pakistanis and Mozambican citizens belonging to the local Pakistani community, dominates the hashish smuggling market in Mozambique. They operate sophisticated criminal enterprises involving importers and exporters, transporters of the drugs, field operators, and those who supply them with information. Details are not available about the size of these criminal groups or their structures. The use of violence is not common. It appears to occur not against the authorities but mainly within the criminal groups when law enforcement authorities have intercepted a consignment of drugs. Such interventions by the police seem to lead to suspicion within the groups that an insider has supplied the police with information or is dissatisfied with his share of the profits. Violence is therefore used as a form of revenge.
These groups have been active since the early 1990s and have been expanding their operations since then. Most of the hashish is re-routed and only a very small proportion remains behind for consumption in Mozambique or elsewhere in southern Africa. Although still minimal compared to the volumes that are trans-shipped, consumption in the region, particularly in South Africa, has gradually increased, resulting in some members of Mozambican criminal groups becoming increasingly involved in trafficking hashish in the southern African region.


The most dramatic example of the extent of hashish trafficking was the 1995 seizure of 40 tonnes in northern Mozambique.13 The hashish was offloaded from a ship with an Asian flag at a beach in the Macomia district in Cabo Delgado. The coastal Swahili towns in this northern part of Mozambique have been linked to drug traffic in the Indian Ocean area for centuries – even before Portuguese colonialism. The consignment allegedly belonged to a known trader who is thought to be in Portugal. A transporter from Nampula, whose identity is known, took the hashish from Cabo Delgado to Nampula, where it was put into storage in buildings that are said to belong to a local Nampula business enterprise. At this location the hashish was packed into boxes normally used for exporting cashew nuts. The person allegedly associated with the exporting of hashish, one Rassul, runs a company in Nampula called Moti Commercial, which is still in operation. Rassul was arrested and imprisoned on drug trafficking charges but was released during 1996 without standing trial. At the time there was speculation that Rassul was being protected by Marcelino dos Santos, formerly a key figure in the ruling Frelimo party.14

According to well-informed sources, the modus operandi followed in the case mentioned above is typical of what happens in other hashish smuggling operations. The traffickers use the northern port of Nacala and the hashish is generally not offloaded in the harbour itself. The ship anchors offshore and small boats are then used to transport the consignment to the shore, where it is stored in various buildings. The drugs arrive in small boxes, for example chicken food boxes, and are then repacked into boxes intended for cashew nuts or tea before being re-exported to Europe and elsewhere. The Mozambican members of the criminal network specialise in getting the licence to export cashew nuts or tea and then bribe the authorities not to examine the boxes. During the mid-1990s there were at least four large shipments of hashish out of Mozambique. Of the four, one shipment is believed to have gone to Mexico and another to Poland.15


To date there have been two arrests in the case involving the 40 tonnes of hashish. The person escorting the truck was taken into custody and a second person arrested was soon released because it appeared to be a case of mistaken identity. The fact that none of the drug traffickers have been prosecuted serves as an indictment of the policing, prosecutorial and judicial services involved and reinforces the widely held belief that the drug traffickers enjoy political protection. When the hashish was landed in Cabo Delgado, its arrival was known locally and the authorities were notified. However, they appear not to have acted against the suspects directly linked to the trafficking. Individuals who formed part of the criminal network involved included some well-known traders from Maputo. One of them, who was subsequently assassinated, allegedly used to buy stolen vehicles in the Maputo area and then sell them to members of the hashish network in the northern parts of the country.


The trafficking involves people who are connected with importing and trading businesses. They have a good knowledge of local and international trading practices and are also associated with traders who are linked to, or are based in, the north of the country, mainly in the provinces of Nampula and Cabo Delgado. Members of these criminal groups are well connected with powerful politicians in Maputo, who protect them from the police and the courts.



Finally there is mandrax (methaqualone) which is consumed almost exclusively in South Africa. The mandrax is either transported through Mozambique or is produced in the country. South African criminal groups with contacts in Maputo often acquire mandrax in exchange for vehicles stolen in South Africa and delivered to Maputo. The mandrax is then taken to South Africa for distribution, mainly in the Western Cape.

Corruption and the drug trade

Corruption facilitates the trafficking of drugs in Mozambique. There is a widely-held belief that with sufficient money, traffickers can buy immunity from investigation and prosecution. The relative impunity with which some of the successful traffickers operate is often a result of their close connections with individuals at the highest levels of government or the Frelimo party. At a lower level, customs officials are bribed to facilitate the entry and removal of drugs from the country; immigration officers are bribed to provide identity or residence permits (known as DIREs) for foreigners involved in trafficking; and the police are paid to look the other way or to assist the traffickers. It appears that judicial officers in the legal system are only targeted in the relatively few cases where traffickers are actually brought to trial.

Poor salaries, institutional fragility, and connections with senior government officials therefore fuel corruption and bribery and facilitate the drug trade. Those individuals within government departments who wish to take steps against drug traffickers, such as some members of the police, are often reluctant to proceed because they do not have the political power to counter the existing links between the traffickers and high government officials and politicians. The State Information Security Service (SISE) has on occasion received information about drug consignments about to enter the country, but in many cases they are unable to act because of the connection between organised drug trafficking groups and powerful officials and politicians.16


Money laundering

Money laundering activities in Mozambique are linked primarily to drug trafficking. The profits of the Mozambicans involved in the trafficking amount to millions of US dollars each year. Some of this money is spent on items such as houses and luxury cars, but the traffickers also convert large portions of their proceeds into properties and businesses in the legitimate economy to generate profits or to sell at a later stage without arousing suspicion.17 It is suspected that this money has contributed to the upsurge in the construction of new buildings in Maputo, Nampula and Pemba. The investment in hotels and tourism is strategic because it is relatively easy to declare more clients than have actually been serviced and thereby disguise profits earned from illicit drug trafficking. During the 1990s, investment in the tourism and banking sectors represented 18 per cent of the decade’s total investment.18


A portion of the proceeds from drug trafficking is channelled to banks abroad and then invested outside the country. Some of the banks, foreign-exchange bureaux and casinos in Mozambique are likely conduits for the laundering of these funds. During 2001, Mozambique had ten banks and about thirty foreign-exchange bureaux, probably more than the legal economy could justify. The main offices of the banks are all in the capital Maputo and so are the majority of exchange bureaux. The surprisingly large number of exchange bureaux was one factor that caused the Bank of Mozambique, the country’s central bank, to suspect that they contributed to financial speculation and the depreciation of the local currency against the US dollar. During the last three months of 2001, two exchange bureaux were closed by the central bank. Since 11 September 2001, some exchange bureaux and shops have been targeted for investigation on suspicion that they were involved in money laundering activities and might have links to the Al Qaeda network.19


South African criminal groups are known to have used Mozambique to launder the proceeds of their cross-border criminal activities. This includes money paid to them in exchange for the delivery of stolen vehicles from South Africa. Some investments have been made in the construction industry.

Violence relating to money laundering is not common, but occurs in cases when individuals within the criminal network keep information from other members or when they try to escape from the control of the network. Banking officials who obtain information about laundering activities are also under threat. For example, during 1996 a Portuguese administrator of the International Bank of Mozambique was assassinated, allegedly after receiving information about money laundering transactions occurring through his bank.20 Those who killed him were arrested but the criminal network behind the money laundering activities was never identified or prosecuted. The assassins were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment but have since been released. Such early releases inevitably fuel the public perception that influential criminal groups involved in money laundering are influencing the decisions of prison authorities through bribery and corruption and that this is obstructing justice in Mozambique. Powerful criminal networks can almost be seen as having created a parallel power base from which to challenge the structures and capacity of the state.

Activities relating to money laundering also impact on the national economy. Drug money that is laundered through the banks leads unsuspecting officials to conclude incorrectly that all the money deposited in their bank (including deposits by drug traffickers) comprises funds that originate from an increase in the country’s production and general commercial exchange. Banking statistics could therefore provide a skewed picture of the real state of the Mozambican economy and this could have significant consequences, according to the assessment of international experts. Some of them are of the view that the trafficking of drugs is the largest business in Mozambique and that ‘The value of illegal drugs which pass through Mozambique probably represents more than the total external commerce all together’.21 The profits from this activity, although not declared, could therefore have a large impact on the Mozambican economy. In fact, the money that accrues from drugs could be an important contributing factor to the high growth rate of the Mozambican economy during the past few years. As is to be expected, the extent of money laundering is not covered by official statistics and it is not known whether this activity is increasing.


At the beginning of November 2001, the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, unanimously passed the first reading of a government bill on money laundering. The bill is aimed at money acquired through drug trafficking, gun running, the trade in stolen vehicles, and organised prostitution. Several deputies indicated that they would introduce amendments during the committee stage in order to widen the scope of the bill. Members from the Renamo Electoral Union opposition coalition indicated that they would seek to amend the bill in order to ensure that it also covered funds acquired through ‘embezzlement and corruption’ and through dealing in contraband goods.

Organised assassination groups

According to reliable sources, there are three organised criminal groups in Maputo that, among other things, operate as contract killer squads.22 They are well known and are linked to a number of murders, drug trafficking and dealing in stolen and hijacked motor vehicles. They appear to operate fairly openly and are said to have connections with people in power.

The name of the leader of one of the groups is known. His group consists of about eight men who are Mozambican nationals and who tend to have shaven heads. One of their evening meeting locations is a café close to Gelados Italianos, in Maputo. This group, which does not appear to have a formal structure, has also been linked to armed robbery and the highjacking of luxury vehicles in Maputo as well as South Africa. Some of the stolen vehicles are apparently sold to people in power. Members of this group have in the past been arrested and detained in the Maputo high security prison but then released without trial under suspicious circumstances.

A second group comprises individuals of Asian origin, including Pakistanis, Indians, and Mozambican citizens. The group consists of approximately six individuals whose leader is a Mozambican of Asian origin whose name is known to many, especially in the Asian community, as ‘X, the murderer’. He has been arrested on a number of occasions for bribery and also for the murder of a shop owner in Maputo who was allegedly involved in drug trafficking. It is suspected that some Pakistani members of this group have been involved in contract killings. There is evidence that such individuals could have assassinated an Indian trader in Maputo, and also that they participated in an attempt on the life of a well-known lawyer in Maputo. A member of this group was recently arrested but released soon thereafter in dubious circumstances. Neither the investigating police nor the Attorney General’s office appear to be proceeding with criminal action against him and, according to reliable information, his release or escape from prison took place after the exchange of thousands of US dollars.

This second group has, since about 1994, been involved in drug trafficking in Mozambique and in missions to recruit individuals into their illegal enterprise. A person believed to be connected with the leader of the group was arrested recently in South Africa and found in possession of mandrax. The group, which allegedly has strong links with individuals within the criminal investigation branch of the police, is also known for its threats to a number of traders in Maputo who owe money. Media reports have referred to threats being made to a Mr Magid, who is involved in a business called the Central Market, the Bikba family, and individuals connected with the Mamade furniture shop. Interestingly, many people from within the Muslim and Indian community know about the existence of this group, but because of the threats of violence and revenge they opt to keep quiet about it. Meetings of this group are held in various places, including the billiard room in the Muslim Community Building and a take-away shop in Maputo.

The third group consists largely of individuals within the police force who are members of the Search and Capture Unit and who allegedly follow orders from some of their superiors. This group has apparently been responsible for the disappearance of a large number of prisoners, a development that was recently denounced by the Human Rights League. It is not known whether this group is motivated by possible financial gain or whether its members regard their actions as part of their job. Police authorities have always denied the existence of such a group, but former prisoners who were contacted, and the Human Rights League, have confirmed its existence.


Trafficking in human body parts

According to police sources, there are up to ten groups – each consisting of four or five people, including their contacts in neighbouring countries – involved in the trafficking of human organs. They consist of indigenous Mozambicans and it is not uncommon to find women among their members. They do not have a sophisticated organisational structure and are mostly family based. Although these groups operate mainly in southern Mozambique, for example in Maputo and Xai-Xai, there have been reports of bodies with missing organs in the northern province of Nampula.


As the main market for these groups is in the neighbouring countries of South Africa and Swaziland, they are engaged in a form of transnational organised crime. Their objective is mainly to supply human organs, especially genitals, to traditional healers.

These groups usually kill specifically for the purpose of extracting organs. They rely on two methods: one is to contract with other criminals to murder the victims and then to extract the required organs; the second is to kill the victims themselves. The latter approach is often preferred because there is less risk that information relating to the murder will spread. According to police sources, one of the groups was arrested recently in Nampula Province. Corruption of customs officers is often relied upon when borders have to be crossed to supply organs in neighbouring countries. Police officers who obtain information about the activities of these groups are also bribed. Police statistics do not cover the activities of these groups and it is not known whether their activities are on the increase.

Obstruction of justice

The flagrant obstruction of justice, often involving organised criminal networks, is one of the most damaging practices facing Mozambican society and its criminal justice system. A damning report by Mozambique’s Attorney General, Joaquim Madeira, tabled and discussed in Parliament on 6 March 2002, confirms that the entire criminal justice system in the country has been discredited as a result. This report is a courageous move by the Attorney General to reverse Mozambique’s slide towards becoming a criminalised state, and it is hoped that he will receive the support of the government and the political establishment. A news agency report on the Attorney General’s address to parliament is reproduced in full in the endnotes as it touches on many of the aspects covered in this paper.23

As pointed out by the Attorney General, there is a widely held view in Mozambique that justice is only done when an investigation has enjoyed a high public profile and when there is public pressure for results. Generally, however, the capacity of organised criminal networks to subvert the course of justice is perceived to be so high that many believe that justice will never be done. Two factors contribute to this perception. Firstly there is the often inadequate and sloppy investigative work of the police, causing the presiding judge at the trial to dismiss the case through lack of evidence. Secondly, the judicial system has been undermined by cases where arrested suspects have been released from detention by order of the Attorney General before the trial has been concluded. An example was the so-called Trevo case, which arose from the discovery of a mandrax factory in Trevo, a suburb of Maputo. The Pakistani citizens who were found in the factory were released before the judgement on the orders of the Attorney General.24


Members of organised criminal networks who have had brushes with the law are familiar with the weaknesses of the criminal justice system and know who can be bought. The most common strategy used in Mozambique is to bribe police officers involved in the criminal investigation, the prosecutors who have to prove the case, and the judge in whose power it is to dismiss the case and order the release of the accused person.

During 2001, many in Mozambique were closely following the judicial process relating to the death of the journalist Carlos Cardoso, who was murdered following his investigations into organised crime. Specifically, he was investigating problems experienced by the Mozambican banking system and the apparent disappearance of 14 million US dollars from the Commercial Bank of Mozambique (BCM) in 1996. The case is still pending and some arrests have been made, including that of the Satar brothers,25 who had links with top figures in government. President Chissano’s son, Nhympine Chissano, who has reportedly been arrested for possession of large amounts of cocaine, is believed to have been an acquaintance of the Satar brothers and was regularly seen at their house in Maputo.26 The Satar brothers also managed a network of foreign exchange bureaux in Mozambique and had significant other interests in commerce and trade. During the first investigation into the fraud perpetrated on the BCM, the Satars and one Vincente Ramaya were implicated as the brains behind the affair and the beneficiaries of the proceeds. As the investigation proceeded, four members of the Satar family escaped from Mozambique to Dubai. A fifth, Mohammed Assif, returned to Mozambique from South Africa and was arrested, but was subsequently released on bail. Vincente Ramaya was also released after some months in prison.


During 2000 the Supreme Court ordered an inquiry into the conduct of some of the state prosecutors who were involved in the investigation into the BCM fraud. The inquiry apparently found evidence of criminal conduct, which allegedly resulted in an inadequate and unprofessional investigation, by two senior prosecutors and by three who had worked on the case at provincial level. The reports relating to the inquiry have not been published and there are indications that the Supreme Court might instruct that charges be laid against the prosecutors concerned.27

Public expectations were high that a thorough investigation and prosecution would take place, but this did not happen. The impression that the investigation was not pursued seriously contributed to a view that the Satars were responsible for obstructing the course of justice by bribing the prosecutors, judges and senior police officers connected with the investigations. (In fact, the Satars and Vincente Ramaya were subsequently, during 2001, accused of spending about 2 million US dollars in bribing state officials.)28 Following criticism of the manner in which the investigation and judicial process had been handled, President Joaquim Chissano dismissed Attorney General Antonio Namburete and a number of prosecutors during 2000. After these dismissals, the network led by the Satars appeared to weaken. One of the dismissed judicial officers, Diamantino dos Santos, was sentenced to a term of imprisonment, but evaded it and escaped from Mozambique. He is believed to be a fugitive in South Africa or Brazil.


Only after the arrest of the Satar brothers in 2001 for their alleged links to the high-profile assassination of Carlos Cardoso, did an investigation start afresh. Public indignation about the failure by the police and the judicial system to deliver justice was high. This contributed to the sacking in December 2001 by President Chissano of Mozambique’s two most senior police officers. He appears to have recognised that citizens had lost confidence in the police and the courts, and is quoted as having said:


An alarming rise in violent and organised crime has led to a sense of insecurity and to just and legitimate indignation. Citizens felt abandoned and there was a general lack of trust in the public institutions of protection, security and the administration of justice.”29

The obstruction of justice is a social cancer that will continue to be used as a weapon by organised criminal groups in Mozambique unless more determined steps are taken by the state to counter it. It thrives when state institutions are weak, the salaries of state employees are low, and there is insufficient political will to combat it. President Chissano’s recent steps are encouraging but it will require a major initiative to reverse the trend. The limited resources in Mozambique to address this problem will not make it any easier. No state can allow a situation to develop in which the Satar brothers virtually managed numerous justice officials and people in key positions, almost creating a parallel state structure to serve them.


Illegal imports (smuggling)

Organised smuggling is an important source of private wealth accumulation in Mozambique. This activity involves a wide range of actors, including the Lebanese ‘Mafia’, which is growing and is starting to include important political figures who trade with or through an array of entrepreneurs. These are organised groups with a well-defined leadership and a network of retailers in many locations in the country. Commercial activity has grown in Mozambique during the last few years partly as a result of unlawful imports. An attempt to restructure the customs department is being undertaken with the assistance of the British Crown Agency. Although they have managed to reduce smuggling, these efforts continue to be hampered by some politicians.

Two factors have facilitated the illegal importation of goods into Mozambique. The first was the government’s failure after independence in 1975 to create an efficient customs system. Given that the Mozambican economy is heavily dependent on imports, the sector linked to this activity has always been an obvious target for criminal groups. Instead of taking firm steps to counteract smuggling, the state for many years tolerated a system that was extremely porous. Pressure from the World Bank led to the restructuring and reforms that are presently being undertaken by the customs department. A few years ago, the customs sector was virtually controlled by a criminal network that took charge of the illegal importation of alcoholic beverages into Mozambique. Sources have referred to a former senior official of the Technical Unit for Restructuring of Customs (UTRA) as a leading figure in the smuggling of goods.30

The second factor that facilitates the illegal importation of goods relates to the length of the Mozambican coastline and its land borders. The weak capacity of the state to control these borders allows organised networks to violate import and customs requirement almost with impunity. During 2001, customs officials reported the seizure of large quantities of tobacco and alcoholic beverages smuggled into Mozambique through illegal entry points, one of which lies north of Pafuri on the border with South Africa. The director of Mozambique’s National Sugar Institute reported in September 2001 that an estimated 70 000 tonnes of sugar were smuggled annually into Mozambique. He warned that the dumping of sugar below cost price in the Mozambican market could suffocate the country’s own sugar producers.31

Responding to suggestions by journalists that a sophisticated organised criminal group from Maputo was involved, Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi stated that the government was ‘committed to combating such organised crime, in the defence not only of the sugar industry but of the entire economy’.32

The illegal imports have as their main goal the evasion of import taxes that should accrue to the state, thereby enabling the smuggled goods to be sold at highly competitive prices. In 1997 a large consignment of plain flour, contaminated with potash bromide and hence unsuitable for human consumption, entered Mozambique without the payment of taxes and was sold at low prices. The importer was allegedly Mozambique International Trading, run by a group of Lebanese traders who had come to Mozambique from Angola. In the first six months of 2001, customs discovered a large imported quantity of sugar and cooking oil in Nacala in the north. The importer had falsely declared that the commodities were in transit to Malawi. After being unloaded in the harbour they were removed, apparently with the connivance of officers employed by the harbour and railways administration. An investigation showed that the consignment had been illegally imported. The owners of the commodity had by that time disappeared and have still not been located. The sugar and cooking oil were evidently meant to be sold on the local market at low prices.33

Again, the organised criminal groups involved in smuggling depend on the cooperation of customs officials at key points such as border posts and harbours. In addition to bribing officials, some operators have identified parts of the Mozambican borders where there is no customs supervision at all.

According to sources linked to the customs department, a considerable number of Mozambican traders have survived or have thrived in recent years through fraud and corruption in the importation process. During 2000, the media exposed the illegal importation of 20 000 tonnes of sugar. The identity of the importer was difficult to determine. Customs officials refused to reveal this to the media, on the grounds that the importer was already paying the required duty. Sources claim that the importer was a Lebanese with high-level connections in the state and Frelimo party hierarchies.

The son of a top politician has also been implicated as an illegal importer of alcoholic beverages. A simple strategy has apparently been used: the person involved introduces himself as ‘the son of so and so’ in order to deflect the scrutiny of customs officials from the imported commodities. On occasion he has allegedly called top customs officers and even the Ministry of Planning and Finance, demanding the release of seized commodities. According to customs officials, other leading figures also use this procedure.

Every year customs authorities discover dozens of instances of smuggling. The more common commodities are vehicles, sugar, automobile spares, alcoholic beverages, tobacco and plain flour. This smuggling industry, for it is an industry, has spawned a dependence syndrome among many of its beneficiaries and the network of people who cooperate to make it work. Honest officials are inhibited from fighting determined groups because of the connection which they often have with senior persons in government. There is no doubt that smuggling costs the state millions each year in lost revenue. However, the current emphasis on customs reform and transformation has led to a decline in the number of incidents of unlawful importation of goods, and the capacity of supervision and control has improved. Frequent seizures have occurred and, as a result, state revenue from this source has increased.

Vehicle theft and bank robberies

In general the activities of criminal groups involved in domestic organised crime (in contrast to transnational organised crime) are less prominent than most of those referred to above. These local groups, which include vehicle and bank robbers, seem to have been well identified by the police.

Such groups are concentrated mainly in Maputo. A large number of car thefts are committed by individuals who supply them to organised groups. These groups, who do not have a sophisticated structure, are composed of six or seven individuals, including their operatives and mechanics. Vehicles tend to be stolen in Maputo and then taken to suburban areas where they are modified or completely dismantled. The modified vehicles are thereafter sold in the city, while the dismantled ones are sold as spare parts. Some groups prefer to sell the stolen vehicles in the north of the country or in neighbouring countries such as Malawi and Zambia. A small number of luxury vehicles stolen in Mozambique have also been disposed of in South Africa.

Similar characteristics of structure and composition are found among bank robbers. The banks in Mozambique are very vulnerable to armed robberies, in which several million US dollars are stolen annually. Often the criminal groups involved have developed links with bank officials who supply them with the necessary information. According to police sources, both car hijackings and bank robberies are often accompanied by murders. Firearms are used when there are any signs of resistance to the seizure by victims. Most of the money that is stolen seems to be spent on property, electronic goods and luxury vehicles. According to police statistics, the activities of these local groups have remained largely constant with perhaps a slight increase occurring.


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