Former editor on trial, but no evidence

The former editor of the now defunct Mozambican weekly “Demos”, Cassimo Ginabay, was hauled before a Maputo court on Monday to face charges of “abuse of confidence”, referring to events that occurred when he was running the paper in 2001-2.

Ginabay told AIM he was surprised that, after the passage of so much time, this case should suddenly be revived. He had little time to prepare, since the notification, summoning him to court, only reached his hands on Thursday, although his whereabouts were no secret, since he has lived in the same central Maputo flat for many years.

“Abuse of confidence”, under Mozambican legislation, is a type of fraud. Essentially it is claimed that Ginabay defrauded CoopArtes, the journalists’ cooperative that owned “Demos”, of paper provided by UNESCO, and of 120 million old meticais (about 5,000 US dollars).

The allegation does not come from CoopArtes, which has not held a general meeting since 1997. The cooperative has not been legally disbanded, but to all intents and purposes has ceased to exist.

The man who has pursued Ginabay, and is the main prosecution witness, is Evans Langa, who called himself the chairperson of the cooperative. But Langa’s name is not on the deed of December 1991 that set up the cooperative, or on any other legitimate CoopArtes document.

Ginabay says that Langa, a former employee of the state airline, LAM, was indeed once close to members of the cooperative – so much so that he was used as the second signatory on the “Demos” account. The bank where “Demos” deposited its funds required two signatures – so, as from 1997, when Ginabay became editor and managing director of “Demos”, he and Langa signed all the cheques.

For some years the arrangement worked well enough – but Ginabay says that, in late 2001, Langa ceased to cooperate. He would not sign any more cheques. He had, however, signed a few blank cheques, and Ginabay used one of these.

He made out a cheque for 120 million old meticais to a trusted friend who owns a central Maputo supermarket. When Ginabay needed funds for “Demos” expenses, he collected the money from the supermarket owner. This kept the paper going – without this arrangement, “Demos” would have ceased publication, and its workers would have lost their jobs.

Ginabay fully intended to repeat this operation with another of the cheques that Langa had pre-signed. This time the sum was to have been 180 million old meticais. This money was not used because the bank queried the authenticity of Langa’s signature.

Ginabay admits that this is an unorthodox way to run a business, but it is not illegal. It would have been illegal if he had diverted the funds into his own pocket – but there is no evidence that he did so. The problem for the prosecution is that there are no “Demos” or CoopArtes accounts or balance sheets. All the paperwork was lost when the paper collapsed in 2003 – by which time Ginabay was no longer the manager.

Ginabay lost access to the accounts when he was sacked in March 2002. He denied the legitimacy of the meeting which sacked him, since it included people who were not members of the cooperative, namely Elias Cossa, who had been expelled from CoopArtes in 1997, and Langa, who had never been a member.

Nonetheless, the Maputo City Court, without bothering to hear Ginabay’s side of the story, issued a ruling in April 2002, ordering Ginabay to hand over the keys to the “Demos” office, and to refrain from signing cheques or any other “Demos” documents. As from that moment, Ginabay had no further contact with the “Demos” accounts.

That means that Ginabay cannot prove his version of events. But he does not have to prove anything, since Mozambican courts work on the basis that suspects are innocent until proven guilty. It is the public prosecutor that must prove that Ginabay stole some or all of the 120 million meticais, and in the absence of documents this is an impossible task.

As for the paper, in 2001 UNESCO provided paper for several Mozambican publications, including “Demos”. Ginabay says that the amount allocated to “Demos” was ten tonnes, worth about 6,300 US dollars. This was enough paper for about two months.

“Demos” collected the paper in instalments from the paper supplier (the company SOCIMO) and then took it every week to Cegraf, the company where “Demos” was printed. UNESCO paid SOCIMO directly, so none of this money ever passed through Ginabay’s hands.

Ginabay insists that all the paper was used to print “Demos”, and the evidence for this is that it appeared every week. Again, there are no accounts. The prosecution could have checked with SOCIMO and Cegraf, but there is no indication that this basic investigation has been done.

Ginabay’s lawyer, Zelma Vasconcelos, told AIM she believes the court should throw the case out, since there is no “corpus delicti” – no evidence that a crime has been committed.

Claims that Ginabay’s management of the paper was ruinous run counter to the history of “Demos”. Throughout the period that he was editor and manager, the paper appeared every week. When he left, it had a reasonably healthy bank balance (over 220 million old meticais in its current account, he says).

But his successors ran the paper into the ground. Within about 18 months of Ginabay’s dismissal the paper had ceased publication, leaving a trail of debt behind it.

The eighth section of the Maputo City Court will give its verdict and sentence in the case on Wednesday.

Post published in: Africa News

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