Chang’s extradition dilemma in Mozambique cripples SA …
Mozambique’s former finance minister Manuel Chang. (Photo: IMF / Ryan Rayburn)
Sending Mozambique’s former finance minister to the United States for fraud and corruption is politically difficult, but legally the best course of action.
First published by ISS today
The question of whether to extradite Mozambique’s former finance minister, Manuel Chang, either to his home country or to the United States turns like a time bomb on the South African president’s desk Cyril Ramaphosa.
He is faced with a lose-lose dilemma. If Chang is sent home, South Africa will be accused of undermining justice as there are doubts that courts in Mozambique will hold him responsible for the corruption and fraud he is accused of. A financial watchdog of Mozambican civil society, if not the United States itself, would likely challenge that ruling in court.
And a decision to extradite Chang to the United States will upset the ruling party, the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo). Frelimo is a political ally and a former liberation movement of Ramaphosa’s own African National Congress. Maputo could also challenge this decision in South African courts.
Already last week, Mozambique again tightened the screws on South Africa by launching a request to the Johannesburg High Court to order the Minister of Justice Ronald Lamola to extradite Chang “without further delay”. Maputo complained that it was “patently unreasonable” that he was detained for more than 28 months.
Chang was arrested on December 29, 2018 at OR Tambo International Airport en route from Maputo to Dubai. The warrant was issued at the request of the United States after accusing it of fraud and corruption. In a major scam, Chang signed a loan of around $ 2 billion in Mozambique in 2013 and 2014. It involved buying a fleet of 24 seemingly overpriced and inappropriately specified tuna trawlers, six patrol vessels and support materials and services.
The massive public debt was withheld from the Mozambican public and interested parties like the International Monetary Fund, which suspended support to the country in 2016 when the loans came to light.
The United States has claimed jurisdiction in this case. He said Mozambique’s creditors sold some of the loans to US investors who lost their money when irregularities in the fishing project came to light.
The United States argues that the project was intended only to obtain loans and distribute them among Mozambican officials like Chang, bank agents and employees of the Lebanese shipping company Privinvest, which supplied the ships. In any case, not a tuna was caught by Mozambique or prevented from being caught by someone else.
Ideally, Ramaphosa’s decision should be straightforward. In law, he should follow the advice of Lamola, who, according to official sources, is to send Chang to the United States. This option is supported by the stronger legal argument that the former minister is unlikely to be properly prosecuted in Mozambique.
These doubts first surfaced in 2019 when Mozambique asked Pretoria to extradite Chang only after South Africa arrested him and the United States asked him to extradite him. Maputo also failed to disclose that Chang still enjoyed immunity from prosecution in Mozambique as an MP. In May 2019, then Justice Minister Michael Masutha ordered Chang’s extradition to Mozambique.
But soon after replacing Masutha, Lamola challenged his predecessor’s decision in the Johannesburg High Court. In November 2019, the court overturned Masutha’s order, sending her back to Lamola for review given that Chang still enjoyed immunity and had not been charged in this Mozambique case.
Chang has since been indicted in Mozambique and his immunity appears to have expired – although some legal experts question him. Nonetheless, Lamola still believes sending him to the United States is the best legal choice due to lingering doubts about the sincerity of Maputo’s intention to seek justice.
After all, Mozambique did nothing for Chang for five years and only acted after the United States did. This suggests that Maputo requested his extradition to prevent him from giving embarrassing testimony in a New York court. Privinvest recently told a London court that he had given money not only to Chang but also to Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi. He claimed the payments had been “donations” to Frelimo – apparently legal in Mozambique – and not personal bribes.
Opposing Lamola and other members of Ramaphosa’s cabinet and among his advisers is a hardline faction sympathetic to Frelimo. This is supposedly headed by Ramaphosa’s security adviser Charles Nqakula – a former state security minister and high commissioner in Maputo – who wants Chang sent home to Mozambique.
Some present Ramaphosa’s dilemma as a simple choice between doing the right thing legally – sending Chang to the United States – and the politically expedient thing, which is sending him home. It is not that simple, say lawyers familiar with the case.
An extradition lawyer involved in the case said ISS today that the legal case for sending Chang home had grown stronger since Maputo indicted him and allegedly lost immunity. He noted that Ramaphosa should weigh the relevant factors, namely that Mozambique is a neighbor, an ally, part of the same region and that Chang is a Mozambican national after all.
But those in the South African government who are in favor of sending it to the United States insist their case is stronger. They argue that the United States was the first to seek his extradition and that Mozambique’s request was blatantly reactionary. “How can you believe a government that does nothing for five years and suddenly asks for extradition after someone else does?” an official asked ISS today.
Mozambique’s search for a Johannesburg High Court order compelling Lamola to announce a decision has increased the pressure on Ramaphosa if only to avoid sensitive litigation. This week, he met Nyusi on the sidelines of French President Emmanuel Macron’s summit in Paris on financing Africa’s recovery after Covid-19.
South African officials said Chang and the Islamist insurgency in northern Mozambique had been discussed. The two problems can be linked. South Africa is pushing for Nyusi to accept military intervention by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) against the insurgents, but Nyusi appears to be resisting. So now might not be the right time for South Africa to bore him. The SADC region might also take offense in Pretoria by preferring the United States to another SADC member.
Political expediency aside, the most legally sound decision would be to send Chang to the United States, where ordinary Mozambicans are more likely to learn how $ 2 billion of their money has evaporated.
Sending him to Mozambique could negatively impact Ramaphosa at home. He has staked his political fortunes on fighting corruption and allows the law to deal with corrupt ANC members such as former President Zuma and the recently suspended Secretary General Ace Magashule. It wouldn’t reflect well if Ramaphosa made a decision on Chang motivated by political expediency rather than respect for the law. DM
Peter Fabricius, ISS consultant.