The alleged mastermind of the plot to steal a tanker full of petrol in Tete in 2016, which killed 107 people when it exploded, has told a court that he habitually paid local police to allow him to conspire with drivers to steal fuel from tankers driving through Tete province to Malawi.
The disaster in November 2016 claimed the lives of 107 residents of the locality of Caphiridzange, in Moatize district. Amateur footage showed that most of the victims had been trying to steal fuel from a fuel tanker parked there, when the tanker exploded.
On Wednesday, 4 July, a court in Moatize town heard Sabino Cardoso, also known as Taliba, recount how on that occasion he had given MZN 3,000 (around $50 at today’s exchange rate) “to the police on duty to let us do our work.”
“It’s not the first time we’ve done that type of business at that point, we’ve always done it, and whenever the police saw a truck diverting to there, they came and we gave them money – I don’t remember how much, but that day we gave them 3,000,” Cardoso said.
Four police officers joined Cardoso in the dock, and denied taking money from him.
According to testimony heard by the court, the tanker first caught fire on 16 November, the day before the fatal explosion. That fire wrecked the tanker’s cab, which the driver and Cardoso removed, leaving the tank full of fuel stranded.
According to one of the policemen, Laurindo Manejo, he and a colleague called Eugénio arrived on the scene the following day to guard the tank – but left after being threatened with violence from the local population, who wanted to steal the fuel.
During the court hearing, Manejo and Eugénio changed their story as to why they had left their station, saying that they had in fact left to get waterproof hats from the local police station, as it had started to rain. However, both said they did not take a bribe from Cardoso.
A sixth defendant was Luís Tambo, the head of the locality, who was accused of allowing the illicit trade to take place.
Tambo denied that was the case, saying he had only been in office in the area for a year when the tragedy happened, and had never heard of the clandestine fuel trade until then – and nor had he ever met Cardoso.
The hearing will resume on Wednesday 11 July.
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