High Court orders Minister of Justice Lamola to suspend …
Mozambique’s former finance minister Manuel Chang. (Photo: IMF / Ryan Rayburn)
Former Mozambican finance minister Manuel Chang, wanted in Mozambique and the United States for corruption, will remain in prison at least until Friday.
The Johannesburg High Court ordered Justice Minister Ronald Lamola not to extradite former Mozambican finance minister Manuel Chang to his home country before the court has ruled on his case.
Judge Edwin Molahlehi’s order in a virtual hearing on Wednesday gave legal force to Lamola’s pledge not to send Chang to Mozambique pending a new hearing on the case on Friday.
Lawyers believe the South African government was set to put Chang on a plane to Maputo on Wednesday morning and that a welcoming committee made up of officials was already waiting for him at Maputo International Airport.
But after the Mozambican anti-corruption watchdog Forum de Monitoria do Orçamento (FMO) on Tuesday launched an urgent request to the Johannesburg High Court for an order preventing his extradition, Pretoria reversed its decision. Lamola pledged to FMO lawyers not to send Chang home until the urgent demand was heard on Friday.
If the FMO wins the case, Chang – who has already spent 32 months in a South African prison – will remain behind bars pending a full hearing, possibly next month, on the merits of his extradition to Mozambique. If the court denies FMO’s request, Chang will likely return home in a few days. He has been lined up to testify as a witness in a Maputo court where 19 other defendants are already on trial in the same $ 2.2 billion “hidden debt” corruption scandal.
Chang has been in prison in South Africa since December 29, 2018, when he was detained under a US arrest warrant while passing through OR Tambo International Airport. The United States then asked South Africa to extradite him. Within days, the Mozambican government also asked South Africa to extradite him – even before he was indicted in the Hidden Debt case, which dates back to 2013.
The South African government and the High Court have since been trying to decide where to send him. Lamola wrote to FMO, the US government and other interested parties last Friday to say he had finally decided to extradite him to Mozambique.
In 2019, Lamola sided with the FMO, successfully seeking an order from the High Court overturning former Justice Minister Michael Masutha’s decision to extradite him to Mozambique. The FMO then argued, and still maintains today, that Chang would escape justice if sent home – when he faces real justice in the United States.
In 2019, the Johannesburg High Court overturned Masutha’s order, saying it would be illegal to extradite Chang to Mozambique because he had not been charged there and still enjoyed immunity from prosecution as a member of parliament.
In a press release on Monday, Lamola said he could now extradite Chang to Mozambique because the country had since lifted his immunity and charged him. But the FMO argues in court documents for the full hearing scheduled for September, Mozambique has yet to issue an arrest warrant for Chang. The FMO also casts doubt on assurances that Chang was indicted and lost his immunity.
He also says that the American extradition order should be privileged because it preceded that of Mozambique. Chang and many other Mozambican government officials, international bankers and shipbuilding executives are accused of accepting millions of dollars in bribes to secretly facilitate $ 2.2 billion in international loans to Mozambique to purchase a fleet of tuna trawlers and military patrol boats.
No tuna have been caught and the boats are all rotting on dry land. The United States exercised its jurisdiction in this matter because it said that many American investors lost money by purchasing the fraudulent Mozambique debt in secondary financial markets. DM