Maputo asks the Johannesburg High Court to order South Africa …
Mozambique’s former finance minister Manuel Chang. (Photo: IMF / Ryan Rayburn)
The Mozambican government says Pretoria has been “extremely unreasonable” in detaining Manuel Chang for more than 28 months.
The Mozambican government has filed a petition with the Johannesburg High Court for an order requiring Justice Minister Ronald Lamola to extradite former Mozambican finance minister Manuel Chang “without further delay”.
Maputo complains that South Africa violated Chang’s right to justice by holding him in prison for nearly 29 months pending his extradition to either Mozambique or the United States to deal with corruption and fraud charges stemming from a $ 2 billion loan scam in Mozambique in 2013 and 2014.
Lamola’s “failure and / or negligence” to make a decision for so long “has become patently unreasonable,” the Mozambican government attorney said in an affidavit to the High Court last week.
President Cyril Ramaphosa is apparently caught in a dilemma over what to do with Chang. A recommendation from Lamola that Chang should be extradited to the United States has been sitting on the president’s desk for several months, according to various sources.
Lamola’s case is based on sound legal principles, but hard-line supporters and supporters of Mozambique’s ruling party, Frelimo, among Ramaphosa’s advisers have made a political argument to the contrary that he should instead extradite. Chang at his home in Mozambique, to avoid offending Frelimo, a close ally of the ANC.
Pretoria’s hope that Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi will accept a proposed regional military intervention to defeat a growing Islamist insurgency in northern Mozambique may also be a factor pending Ramaphosa’s decision.
Chang was arrested at OR Tambo International Airport on December 29, 2018, while traveling from Maputo to Dubai for vacation. He was apprehended under an arrest warrant requested by the US Department of Justice which indicted him for allegedly receiving bribes in connection with the loan scam scandal.
The United States claimed jurisdiction because it said part of the $ 2 billion loan was transferred by a creditor bank to American investors who then lost money when the deal broke down. is collapsed.
After Chang’s arrest, the United States asked South Africa to extradite him. Only then did Mozambique ask Pretoria to extradite him to Mozambique instead.
In May 2019, during his last days in power, Lamola’s predecessor, Michael Masutha, ordered Chang’s extradition to Mozambique. But shortly after replacing Masutha, Lamola took the unusual step of challenging Masutha’s decision in court on the grounds that the decision was made without due regard to all relevant facts. In particular, he argued that Chang was unlikely to stand trial in Mozambique as he had not been charged there at the time.
In November 2019, the Johannesburg High Court overturned Masutha’s decision and sent it back to Lamola for a new decision which should take into consideration all the relevant facts.
Meanwhile, Mozambique has filed a complaint against Chang. But the fact that he did so only about five years after his alleged infractions – and only after the United States charged him – has cast doubt on the sincerity of his intention to seek justice against him.
A Mozambican NGO that monitors government finances, the Forum de Monitoria do Orçamento (FMO), joined Lamola’s lawsuit in 2019 to overturn Masutha’s decision to extradite Chang to Mozambique. FMO said it believes if Chang is returned to Mozambique Maputo will bury the case, while if he is extradited to the United States the courts will reveal the full complicity of Chang and other government officials. Mozambican in the loan scam. Thus, extraditing him to the United States would better serve the interests of the Mozambican people.
The U.S. indictment against Chang and others alleges that the $ 2 billion the Mozambican government borrowed from Swiss bank Credit Suisse and Russian bank VTB Capital, apparently to purchase a fleet of tuna trawlers and patrollers, were largely diverted in the form of bribes. . Boats were delivered to Mozambique, but were reportedly not worth the money paid for them. And they haven’t been used. The trawlers would never have caught a single fish.
The Mozambican government’s affidavit in support of its request for a High Court order on Lamola to extradite Chang does not specify where he is to be extradited.
But in a letter of support, which Mozambique’s Attorney General Beatriz Buchili wrote to Lamola in December 2020, she said Chang should be extradited to Mozambique “as the only competent country in the matter”. She adds that this opinion was reinforced when a New York court acquitted Jean Boustani, another accused in the case, in December 2019.
Boustani was a salesperson for Privinvest, the Lebanese shipping company that sold trawlers, patrol boats, and support equipment and services to Mozambique. He was accused of paying bribes to Chang and others and thereby defrauding American investors who had bought some of the loans from Credit Suisse. He has never denied paying Mozambican officials, but the prosecution has failed to prove he was guilty of defrauding US investors.
Buchili complained in his letter to Lamola that his long delay in extraditing Chang to Mozambique “has negative implications on various cases in Mozambique”. She also said that Chang’s long detention “violates the principle of the right to justice under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”
She warned Lamola that Chang could use the long delay in his extradition as a ground for claiming the right to liberty “at the expense of criminal justice for the crimes he committed in Mozambique”.
A lawyer involved in the case said that Chang’s imminent release was unlikely because regardless of which country Ramaphosa decides to extradite him to, those who oppose the decision will likely challenge it in court. DM