Mozambique’s former finance minister Manuel Chang will be …
Mozambique’s former finance minister Manuel Chang. (Photo: IMF / Ryan Rayburn)
Washington is “disappointed” by the apparent turnaround in Pretoria.
South Africa should extradite former Mozambican finance minister Manuel Chang to Mozambique, not the United States, after accepting assurances from Maputo that he will ultimately stand trial for allegedly accepting bribes in a 2013 US $ 2 billion “hidden debt” scandal.
The decision “disappointed” the US government because US investors lost millions in the scam and he believes the US would be the best place for Chang to face a proper trial.
Pretoria’s apparent decision to send him home comes as the long-delayed trial of 19 others involved in the alleged 2013 loan scam is due to open in a Maputo court on Monday. Chang was not originally among the accused or apparently on the 70 witness list, but it is possible that he will now be added.
Chang faces fraud and corruption charges for allegedly receiving millions of dollars in bribes to sign approximately $ 2.2 billion in loans from Credit Suisse and Russian bank VTB to government agencies in Mozambique to purchase fishing trawlers and military patrol boats in 2013 and 2014.
Pretoria arrested Chang in December 2018 while transiting through OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg and has held him since then, as he examines rival extradition requests from Mozambique and the United States. Justice Minister Ronald Lamola was in favor of his extradition to the United States on the grounds that he would not face real justice in Mozambique.
But Lamola has now changed his mind or has been overthrown by pro-Frelimo advisers in President Ramaphosa’s inner circle. Government sources say the start of the Maputo trial of 19 corruption suspects on Monday appears to have convinced Ramaphosa that Chang will eventually be brought to justice in Mozambique.
Ramaphosa also appears to have been influenced by Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi’s complaint that the United States acted “in bad faith” in the case from the start by ignoring a request for legal assistance from Mozambique in its investigation against Chang – then by indicting him himself.
And Ramaphosa may also have been persuaded by a recent Mozambique petition to the Johannesburg High Court for an order compelling the South African government to release Chang. “without further delay”.
Maputo Attorney General Beatriz Buchili complained that South Africa was violating Chang’s right to justice by detaining him for so long and that this “had negative implications on various cases in Mozambique”.
The current Islamist insurgency in the Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado may also have been a factor in Ramaphosa’s decision. For a long time, Mozambican President Nyusi has resisted pleas from South Africa and other regional governments to allow a Southern African Development Community (SADC) military force to enter Mozambique to fight the insurgents. . He finally agreed in June and it is possible that South Africa will hand Chang over to him, some analysts speculate.
Nyusi himself and his predecessor Armando Guebuza have been called to testify in the case which begins in Maputo on Monday by lawyers for some of the defendants. The accused include Guebuza’s son Armando Ndambi Guebuza, and the former private secretary to ex-president Guebuza InÃªs Moiane and political advisor Renato Matusse as well as the former director general of the State Information and Security Service (SISE), GregÃ³rio LeÃ£o , and the former director of economic intelligence of the institution AntÃ³nio Carlos do Rosario.
South Africa arrested Chang on December 29, 2018 on an arrest warrant requested by the United States who charged him with fraud and corruption, as he said many American investors lost money in what he called a $ 2 billion loan scam because the debt had been passed. to investors.
The United States then asked South Africa to extradite him. It was only after that that Mozambique asked Pretoria to extradite him to Mozambique instead. At that time – more than five years after the alleged offense – he had not even charged him yet and he still enjoyed immunity from prosecution as a Member of Parliament.
This delay has raised serious doubts about the sincerity of Mozambique’s intention to hold Chang to account.
Despite this, former Justice Minister Michael Masutha ordered Chang’s extradition to Maputo just before stepping down in May 2019. When he took office later that month, Lamola challenged Chang’s decision. Masutha before the Johannesburg High Court, which overturned the decision in November.
Mozambique has since lifted Chang’s immunity and charged him, but that is unlikely to convince some Mozambican watchdogs.
The Mozambican Forum of Monitoria do OrÃ§amento (FMO), an NGO that monitors public finances, joined Lamola’s lawsuit in 2019 to overturn Masutha’s decision to extradite Chang to Mozambique. He said he believed that if Chang was returned to Mozambique, Maputo would bury the case, while if he was extradited to the United States, the courts would reveal the full complicity of Chang and other Mozambican government officials. in the loan scam. Therefore, extraditing him to the United States would better serve the interests of the Mozambican people.
On Saturday, a senior US government official expressed “disappointment” that Chang is apparently not now on trial in the United States, as US investors have lost much of the money stolen in the loan scam.
“We believe the United States would have been the best place for Mr. Chang to receive a proper trial,” the official said.
Former Unisa international law professor and Mozambique expert Andre Thomashausen has expressed serious doubts about the trial due to open on Monday.
He told Portuguese news agency Lusa that the case was “premature” because Mozambican prosecutors had gathered so little evidence against the accused.
He also noted that Chang, the key witness, was not available – but he was speaking before it emerged that Chang was likely to be extradited to Mozambique soon.
Thomashausen believed that the lack of evidence would almost inevitably force the court to acquit the defendants. “It is even likely that this is the strategy,” he added. DM