Eight years after Malian reporter’s disappearance, RSF discovers suspects hold cushy state jobs

Aside from a former intelligence chief detained provisionally two years and a half ago, all of the suspects “wanted” in connection with a Malian reporter Birama Touré’s disappearance eight years ago are still at large, enjoying a golden exile, serving as an adviser in a key ministry, holding posts in Mali’s representations abroad or holding other state jobs. Mali’s military junta has ignored all of the justice system’s many requests to be allowed to question the military personnel involved, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has discovered.

In Mali, you can be wanted for years for a journalist’s abduction, torture and violent death and yet still hold an official position within the government, its foreign service or in one of its intelligence agencies.

Eight years after Birama Touré, a journalist with the respected Bamako-based investigative media outlet Le Sphinx, disappeared on 29 January 2016, only one of the persons wanted for questioning has been arrested despite at least four requests by the judges who have succeeded each other in charge of the case, according to judicial documents seen by RSF.

The only person to have been arrested is Gen. Moussa Diawara, the former head of Mali’s domestic intelligence agency, the General Directorate for State Security (DGSE). It was RSF who revealed the DGSE’s role in 2021. Six witnesses told RSF that Touré was held at a DGSE detention centre after his abduction. Some of them saw him in this secret prison, where – RSF has been told – he finally died in still unclear circumstances. All of the other persons suspected of being involved are still at large.

They include former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s son, Karim Keïta, who continues to be officially wanted by the Malian justice system, although the international warrant for his arrest has been never been executed. He was a powerful political figure at the time, controlled Mali’s security services and chaired the National Assembly defence committee. According to a witness, he was seen at the secret DGSE prison on the day Touré’s body was taken away. One of Touré’s fellow detainees told RSF that Touré had told him that he was being held there “on orders” from Karim Keïta.

At the time of his disappearance, Touré had been investigating a series of major weapons contracts in which a great deal of money was reportedly embezzled and pocketed by Karim Keïta and some of his associates. “The republic’s enfant terrible,” as he was sometimes called during his father’s presidency,” now resides in Côte d’Ivoire and has retired from Malian politics. “He keeps a low profile and plays tennis,” one of his relatives told RSF.

“By protecting many members of their security forces who are suspected of being involved in Birama Touré’s disappearance, the Malian authorities are preventing the truth from emerging. Most of these people hold official positions. Some have even been promoted or decorated in recent years, even though they are wanted on extremely serious charges. This is shocking. Did the junta use this journalist’s disappearance to sideline the former president’s son and a powerful general? We ask the Malian government to accede to the requests of its own justice system and to do everything possible to shed light on this matter.

Arnaud Froger
head of RSF’s investigation desk

RSF has seen a letter that the judge then in charge of the case wrote to the defence minister, Col. Sadio Camara, on 28 March 2023 requesting that the six members of the armed forces indicted on suspicion of having played a role in Touré’s disappearance should be made available to the justice system. At least three similar requests had already been made – all of them in vain.

Not only free but also decorated

The wanted persons include Col. Cheick Oumar N’Diaye, who is identified as a former DGSE officer in the documents seen by RSF. In fact, as director of operations, he played a leading role. A witness said Col. N’Diaye participated in Touré’s interrogation at the DGSE detention centre after his abduction. Another witness said it was N’Diaye who “cleaned up the blood” left by Touré in his cell after he was tortured to death. N’Diaye then reportedly use his own white pickup to take Touré’s body away to an unknown destination. N’Diaye was never questioned because his superiors did not give their permission, in a decision tainted by a major conflict of interest. In a decree on 7 December 2022, N’Diaye was appointed to a senior position within the defence ministry.

While researching his profile, RSF also discovered that he was decorated and appointed to the rank of Knight of the National Order of Mali in January 2018, as were two other military officers who are charged in this case and who are wanted by the justice system. One of them is Aboubacar “Abacha” Koné, who also worked for the DGSE at the time of Touré’s abduction and was seen by a witness on the day that Touré’s body was taken away. Nicknamed “chief torturer” by former detainees questioned by RSF, he was also seen with Touré at Le Sphinx headquarters the day before his abduction. According to evidence gathered by the Malian investigation, he was directly involved in torturing Touré. RSF has learned that he is still on active duty and has been transferred to a unit in western Mali.

Finally, documents obtained by RSF have confirmed information already obtained from various sources to the effect that two other suspects hold positions in Malian representations abroad. In November 2021, a judicial source told RSF that one of these suspects was “hard to arrest” because of the “important role” he played for Mali.

Aside from Karim Keïta, who is a fugitive from justice, and Moussa Diawara, who is in pre-trial detention, there are six suspects who are fully aware of the charges against them and who nonetheless still hold official posts in the security forces or in other parts of the Malian state apparatus. Justice minister Mahamadou Kassogué did not respond to RSF’s questions about this situation of total impunity prejudicial to truth and justice.


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