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Friday, 31 January, 2003, 10:08 GMT
Key Mozambique murder suspect held
Carlos Cardoso
Cardoso was investigating a huge banking scandal
The man accused of masterminding the 2000 killing of a top investigative journalist in Mozambique has been arrested in South Africa, police say.
South African officials will deport him at Mozambique's request as early as the weekend

South African Police Spokesperson

Anibal Antonio dos Santos Junior, 31, was arrested in Pretoria on Thursday, just a day before a Mozambique court is due to deliver its verdict in the case, seen as a key test of the country's judicial independence.

Mr dos Santos escaped from prison while awaiting trial and was tried in absentia.

Some of the other five defendants have implicated the son of Mozambique President Joaquim Chissano in the killing, which shocked Mozambique.

Pleas changed

Mr dos Santos, known as Anibalzinho, will appear in a Pretoria Magistrate's Court on Friday pending his extradition to Mozambique, divisional commissioner Johan de Beer said in a statement.

"South African officials will deport him at Mozambique's request as early as the weekend," said a senior South African police spokesman quoted by Reuters news agency.

State prosecutor Mourao Baluce is recommending the maximum sentence available, 24 years, for each of the defendants in the trial,

He also wants a full investigation into allegations made by three of the defendants that Nyimpine Chissano was involved in the November 2000 killing.

Nyimpine Chissano
Nyimpine Chissano denies involvement

Carlos Cardoso was looking into the disappearance of millions of dollars in privatisation funds from the main state bank when he was gunned down on a Maputo street.

He had dominated the small world of Mozambican journalism, exposing the uglier side of a country often hailed as one of Africa's most promising democracies which boasts one of the continent's best performing economies.

Five of the accused have changed their pleas to guilty after months of protesting their innocence.

Mass interest

The court proceedings - described by some as the trial of the century - have been broadcast live on national television.

Suspicion of a cover-up emerged in September when Anibalzinho escaped under mysterious circumstances, from Maputo's highest security prison.

People laying flowers at the murder site in Maputo
Cardoso's death shocked Mozambique

The attorney general described the escape as "a body blow to our judicial system".

Last month, attention shifted to Nyimpine Chissano.

The suspects showed a cheque signed by Mr Chissano to the court, saying he had used it to pay for the killing.

Nyimpine Chissano has denied this, saying the cheque may have come from a business contact to whom he had given signed cheques as a guarantee.

He has not been charged with any crime.

Correspondents say that a court decision to launch a formal investigation into the allegations against Mr Chissano will prove crucial in persuading the people of Mozambique whether their judiciary is above political interference.

See also:

07 Mar 02 | Africa
19 Dec 01 | Africa
05 Dec 01 | Africa
23 May 01 | Africa
24 Nov 00 | Africa
08 Mar 00 | Africa
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