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Military officers on trial for the theft of 36 million meticais (worth about 1.2 million US dollars at the time of the theft) have evoked the Nuremberg defence that they were only following orders.
Four officers and five civilians are on trial before the Maputo City Court. The prosecution claim that the soldiers, who worked in the finance department of the Army Command, faked wage payments and drained the money into bank accounts held by people outside the army, mostly relatives and lovers.
On Wednesday, the five civilians testified, admitting that their accounts had been used by the soldiers, but claiming they had no idea of the origins of the large sums of money which mysteriously appeared in those accounts.
On Thursday, it was the turn of the military staff, notably the two key players in the theft, Ernesto Rufino and Abdul Ismael. They told much the same story – they did divert the money, but only because they were ordered to do so by a superior officer, the head of the payments sector, Major Alfredo Issufo Martinho.
Payment officer Rufino and his assistant Ismael claimed that between 2010 and 2015 Issufo instructed them to deposit sums in accordance with payment requisitions that he provided.
Every month the units subordinate to the Army Command provide lists of staff and their wages, that were to be keyed into the payments system. After the total value was calculated a payment requisition was sent to the Finance Department, which drew up the final paperwork. According to Rufino and Ismael, Issufo doctored the paperwork, inflating the sums to be paid.
Rufino and Ismael confessed that they had taken over accounts of their relatives and friends into which the money was siphoned. It was then withdrawn and shared with Issufo. They said he demanded 60 per cent of the stolen money for himself, and they could divide the remaining 40 per cent between them.
It is impossible to check this story with Issufo, since he died in 2014. But Rufino admitted that the theft continued, even after Issufo’s death.
Even if Rufino and Ismael are telling the truth, and Issufo did order the theft, this does not exempt them from responsibility. As the Nazi war criminals learnt at the Nuremburg trials after World War II, “I was only following orders” is never an adequate defence.
A third of the military defendants, Anibal Sacatisa, of the armoured vehicles regiment stationed at Matola-Gare, told the court on Thursday that he had given his bank card to his friend Ismael. He said he had no idea what happened to his account while the card was in Ismael’s possession.
The fourth of the soldiers on trial, Elsa Chauque, was having an affair with another officer from the Army Command payments section, Ricardo Giquina, who has gone missing. She said that money she had not earned appeared in her account, but blamed this entirely on Giquina. She said she had lent him her bank card, and he never returned it, claiming that it had been lost.
The trial resumes on Monday.Source: AIM / Miramar
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