Jaime Enrique Saade Cormane, in a file photo. Courtesy
This Brazilian businesswoman with her nails painted lilac will never forget that Tuesday, shortly before the pandemic, when her family's life sank in an instant. The carefully guarded secret jumped through the air. Her husband had gone out to work, as usual, in the laundry they opened together in Belo Horizonte (Brazil). "He called me and said 'I've been caught'. At that moment, life fell apart. I said, 'We're not going to abandon you. We will fight for your innocence," M. D. told EL PAÍS during an interview on a terrace in that city on a recent Saturday. Brazilian police arrested Jaime Enrique Saade Cormane, a Colombian 60? years, following an Interpol request to serve an old sentence for murder. The fear that always accompanied them materialized; Their lives would never be anodyne and discreet as before. Saade went to jail.
The secret he told her many years before, when he still did not speak Portuguese and they were engaged in a life together, was suddenly in the headlines of Colombia and Brazil.
A nightmare began for the family that M. D. and Saade built; Meanwhile, an octogenarian from Barranquilla celebrated the long-awaited reward for an extraordinary tenacity. The man who went out with his daughter, Nancy Mestre, to celebrate New Year's Eve 1994 and was convicted in 1996 of murdering her, was in jail. The end of three decades of flight. The veteran Brazilian Federal Police commissioner who led the operation to locate and arrest him, Fatima Bassalo, thought, mission accomplished.
M. D. agrees to talk because he wants to give his version of the case that has marked since that New Year's Eve to the family of the victim, obviously, but also to his own, that of the condemned for killing her. The businesswoman is convinced that her husband was unjustly convicted – "they were looking for a culprit, a scapegoat", "I think I was with the wrong person at the wrong time". And he maintains that the judicial process has serious irregularities. "He's an excellent father and husband. A great friend. I want to highlight that. An extremely caring person, very good with workers. A very familiar man."
Police station Bassalo, head of the Federal Police's international cooperation center in Minas Gerais, confirms that "he had a normal life. Family, work. Nothing that could attract attention."
Street where Jaime Saade had a laundry, in Belo Horizonte.DOUGLAS MAGNO
The woman with the lilac nails is expectant because on Sunday she will finally be able to visit her husband in prison. It will be the first time they see each other since the second flight, very brief, nothing compared to the other.
When Brazil's Supreme Court agreed last April to extradite him (overturning an earlier ruling), Saade Cormane tried his luck desperately at the prospect of spending the rest of his life behind bars. With the help of his wife's relatives, a beach hideout on the Brazilian coast was searched for by the Federal Police and the intelligence of the Military Police of Minas Gerais. He returned to prison, where he is still awaiting delivery. "He's sad, depressed, it's a difficult time, we're not going to sink??".
In the mid-nineties, Saade settled in Belo Horizonte. To his wife, children and friends, he was always Henrique dos Santos Abdala. This is the story about how he managed to hide in Brazil and build a new life as a father and businessman without arousing suspicion or being discovered. It begins shortly after that New Year's Eve that ended with Nancy mortally wounded by a bullet. Days later, he passed away. He was 18 years old.
As after Nancy's death he fled Barranquilla, Saade was tried in absentia. The sentence of 27 years in prison for murder has haunted him ever since. No one knows exactly when or where he crossed the border, but he quickly gained a new identity and, with it, the key to a new life. A fugitive. Why Brazil? Because here he had and has a brother, a doctor, who currently runs an oncological hospital. Thanks to a false birth certificate in the name of Henrique dos Santos Abdala, born in Amazonas, he obtained documents to move comfortably through Brazil and its bureaucracy, from the essential tax identification number to the driver's license or the voter's title, Brazilian investigators discovered.
M.D. uses initials to protect his family and business. He says they met in Belo Horizonte, at the house of a mutual friend. When the relationship was serious, he told her he had something to tell her. "I was shocked. It's very sad. But I saw that his words were sincere. At that moment I understood that God had put me in his life to support him, believing in his innocence."
Wife of Jaime Saade, who does not want to be identified. DOUGLAS MAGNO
In 1996 they welcomed their first child. When Saade registered him, he left a valuable clue, the thread that the Federal Police pulled to undo the skein of his cover and locate him. When registering the baby – today a twenty-year-old with two degrees linked to the business world – he filled in the father's box with his real name. Commissioner Bassalo was always struck by that detail. Even for someone without a police badge, it's strange. "Yes, we wonder why he would use his real name to register the son. When we arrested him last time he told us he did it because he is from a family with possessions in Colombia." The name as a door to an inheritance. The girl arrived in 2003. She is now a student helping her mother run the family business.
While in Brazil, the couple expanded the family, Mr. Mestre dedicated, with infinite determination and patience, to search from Colombia for the convicted murderer of his daughter. Your life's mission.
This case has spectacular plot twists. First, the arrest of the fugitive 26 years after the murder, when only Nancy's tireless father held hope. The initial euphoria gave way to an extradition process that culminated in deep disappointment (for Mestre and the police) because the Brazilian Supreme Court rejected Colombia's request. Suddenly, Saade was a free man in Brazil. "When he resumed social life, not a friend turned his back on him. Everyone told him, 'We believe in your innocence,'" M.D. says.
But the octogenarian Colombian had not come this far to surrender in the last stretch, so he appealed the ruling of the Brazilian high court. And this time, a major surprise, the Supreme Court accepted the extradition. No one among the various sources consulted remembers another extradition case in Brazil in which judges changed their minds in this way. For M.D. that 180-degree turn and that they accepted the father's appeal "when only countries can appeal" is the demonstration of double standards and persecution of her husband. The extradition process "has to be from State to State, third parties cannot intervene," says the businesswoman. "The law should be for everyone, not tailored to a case."
When the children were of age, their parents told them the secret. And they went on with their lives, that of any other middle-class Brazilian family with a small business. "We have gone through many difficulties, we have fought a lot, with a lot of struggle we built our company and they have given us many blows," says M. D.
They were always a pineapple. He confesses that the fear of being discovered accompanied them day and night. "We were always afraid and misgivings about the direction the story took, because of the lies that have been told."
Martin Mestre, holds a photo of Nancy.Charlie Cordero
When Commissioner Bassalo gathered enough evidence that Abdala was Saade and tracked him down, she ordered her team to follow him. He asked them to stop him discreetly, neither at home, nor at work, halfway.
The laundry company is still operational. The sons have replaced the father in the management. It operates in an unsigned warehouse in a nondescript neighborhood of Belo Horizonte. On a recent Friday, several women placed kilos and kilos of sheets and towels in giant washing machines. Another iron. The original location of the workshop is in a nearby neighborhood. They moved when Saade Cormane was released in the first decision of the Supreme. The laundry was born in an alley of workshops and houses of one floor and fence. Among the neighborhood, many relatives of Mrs. Souza, who has been here for half a century. Stunned when the TV told that the man at the laundromat at the end of the street was arrested for a 1994 murder. "I got really scared, of course. The truth is, I never talked to them. Here we are not very gossip. We don't talk to strangers," he says as he sweeps the sidewalk.
The head of a neighboring workshop never liked him but never imagined that he was a criminal or Colombian. She describes him as "a bom vivant, who took care of running the business was her." He remembers the fights with them when the laundry operated 24 hours a day and with such power that, once, there was a small fire. Or that day that "a 20,000-liter tank exploded and the water reached the street," says Zé Maria, the name he chooses to share his impressions.
Another Zé, Zé Roberto, worked for M.D. and Saade. First, handyman. He was in charge of the repairs in the apartment they had in a middle-class neighborhood in Belo Horizonte, of those with fenced towers, tree-lined sidewalks, a school and a cafeteria several blocks away. Places where little neighborhood life is glimpsed. Over time, Zé Roberto joined the company for pick-ups and deliveries to hotels and motels – the couples' solution to have a few hours of intimacy in this city of Pacata.
He remembers his former boss as a very quiet guy. "She always respected us [the workers], the woman was more rebellious," he says. "When he disappeared [he was detained], she told us he was traveling." Zé Roberto was injured in the middle of the pandemic, was fired, he says, and denounced his bosses in a litigation that is still open. "They haven't cared about me," he complains.
Until the coronavirus stopped the world, the business had to go from strength to strength because, according to the former employee, Saade's family owns "a mansion with a plot of land of a thousand meters" in a gated community of a neighboring city, which in Brazil means ascending from the middle class to the upper class. He had a good car, a Fiat Toro, which according to witnesses only Saade was driving. As his Brazilian documentation was annulled when he was discovered, between one extradition process and another he could not drive. "The son would bring him in the car to work," recalls Roberto, another neighbor at the laundromat.
Zé Roberto, former employee of Jaime Saade.DOUGLAS MAGNO
Investigation, arrest and imprisonment
The successful police investigation in Brazil was far less cinematic than some versions that have circulated out there.
The case reached the table of Commissioner Bassalo, the international unit of the Federal Police in Belo Horizonte, in May 2019 by the hand of Interpol. "It was a request for verification because there were indications that Cormane [refers to Saade by his middle name] was here and had a son born in Belo Horizonte. First, investigate the records," he reveals in his office. Bingo! The baby had the father's real name.
The fugitive's fingerprints and other data were on Interpol's red notice. The insistence of Nancy's octogenarian father must have boosted the interest of the Colombian authorities and influenced the file to poke its head among the thousands of cases of fugitives handled by the police, whether foreigners in Brazil or Brazilians abroad.
The mother's name on the certificate led them to the company that the fugitive founded with his wife and to his home, where there was a man of Saade Cormane's age. It was enough to compare the fingerprints in the possession of Interpol with those that Abdala put on his Brazilian documents. Bingo again!
"Even knowing that he is Cormane [Saade], a fugitive from Colombia, I can't do anything even if I have him in front of me. That's important. I need a remand order for extradition purposes from the Supreme Court," explains the veteran policewoman.
On a Tuesday before the pandemic — January 28, 2020 — he was arrested. "He presented the driver's license under the false name. He said his name was Henrique, which is true on both sides." The first thing his family did was to demonstrate his roots in Brazil and that he had a university degree (in Business Administration), crucial to avoid going with common prisoners. He was imprisoned for nine months. Central part of the extradition process, if the case had expired. The judges agreed no, but rejected the request for surrender to Colombia. "For us, it became a closed case, although with a lot of sadness, of course." But no. Nancy's father appealed the decision. And this time, it thrived.
On the day of the hearing in the Supreme Court, on April 18, agents were deployed in case the judges agreed to hand him over. And so it was, so, that afternoon, Saade Cormane was again a wanted man. "By then it had vanished," police said. "His wife told us he had stepped aside to protect the family. It wasn't true."
And there began a methodical joint work of the Federal Police with the intelligence services of the Military Police of Minas Gerais. They mapped M.D.'s relatives, the movements of their vehicles, and began tracking license plates captured by radar on highways from Belo Horizonte and into neighboring states.
They discovered that in his last days as a free man he visited Uberlandia, where the wife has family, and returned a couple of days to Belo Horizonte before another relative took him by road to Alagoas, a coastal state.
Current appearance of Jaime Saade.Charlie Cordero
He stopped in Arapiraca and then in Marechal Deodoro, a beach destination for Brazilian and international tourism. "He rented an apartment. It's a city but we didn't have an address because we crossed plates that go on highways. So we deployed surveillance," Bassalo reveals. Agents of both bodies were stationed at strategic points "because everyone goes to the supermarket, to a pharmacy, you know?" They followed three suspects before finding him. "We let him approach the house, to locate it. Just before entering, he noticed that we were following him. He tried to run, threw the bag he was carrying, and we caught him. He didn't react," the police station says. And he notes with satisfaction: "We arrested him on May 1. He was on the run for 13 days."
The Bassalo police station is waiting to receive the order to take the convicted murderer to the airport to hand him over to Colombian agents. His wife visits him in prison while lawyers search for any loopholes in Brazil or Colombia that could spare him the decades of sentence ahead. After so many efforts and vicissitudes, Nancy's octogenarian father longs to finish his mission soon. And finally rest.
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