South Africa suspends extradition of former Finance Minister Manuel Chang back to Mozambique

Last moment suspension of the extradition order, at least, offered a breathing space and most probably, a short-term relief for the former Finance Minister Manuel Chang. He was highly expected back in Maputo, Mozambique, to face court trial over alleged corruption and accepting huge bribe during his time as Minister of State in charge of the Ministry of Finance.

The Johannesburg High Court has ordered Justice Minister Ronald Lamola not to extradite Chang to his home country. He is accused of corruption after allegedly receiving bribes to sign off on international loans of US$2bn (£1.5bn) intended to buy fishing trawlers and military patrol boats. However, much of it was allegedly diverted to government officials. Chang denies any wrongdoing.

According to reports, the Mozambique Budget Monitoring Forum (FMO), a group of civil society organizations, halted the extradition until arguments against it can be heard. It wants the former Minister to be extradited to the United States where he is also wanted on similar charges of corruption and accepting bribes that caused huge financial losses to investors.

In a report titled “High Court orders Justice Minister Lamola to halt extradition of Manuel Chang to Mozambique”, the Mozambican anti-corruption watchdog, Forum de Monitoria do Orçamento (FMO), launched an urgent application in the Johannesburg High Court on August 24 for an order preventing his extradition, Pretoria reversed its decision.

Chang has been in prison in South Africa since 29 December 2018, when he was detained on a United States arrest warrant while on his way from Maputo to Dubai and transiting through OR Tambo International Airport. The United States then applied to South Africa to extradite him. Within days, the Mozambique government also asked South Africa to extradite him – even before he had been charged in the hidden debt case, which dates back to 2013.

In his native Mozambique, Chang is accused in three separate cases, according to the extradition request submitted by the office of Mozambique’s attorney general to the South African authorities in 2019, and which Lusa has seen.Chang was Mozambique’s finance minister during the government of President Armando Guebuza, between February 2005 and December 2014.

Civil society groups in South Africa and Mozambique have questioned whether Mozambique has the political will or capacity to mount a proper prosecution.Contrary to initial expectations, Chang was not extradited, as planned to Mozambique.

Now he was no longer in the hands of the South African police, but Interpol, which was taking care of all the paperwork required to put into effect the extradition order made by South African Justice Minster Ronald Lamola.

Interpol requires three documents from Mozambique – a formal arrest warrant against Chang, the charge sheet against the former minister, and proof that his parliamentary immunity has been lifted. He was elected to the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, as a deputy for the ruling Frelimo Party, in the 2014 general elections.

But he was not a candidate in the subsequent elections held in 2019, since by that time, he was already a detainee in a South African jail. The question of parliamentary immunity thus no longer arises.

The case popularly known as “Hidden Debts” in the country’s history, Chang guaranteed debts of over US$2.2 billion (about two billion euros) contracted in favor of public companies namely Proindicus, Ematum (Mozambican Tuna Company) and MAM (Mozambique Asset Management), linked to fishing and maritime security in Mozambique.

Reports further indicated that many US investors had lost money in what was described as a US$2 billion loan scam involving two banks, the Credit Suisse and the Russian VTB bank. The secrecy and corruption surrounding the loans dealt devastating blows to Mozambique’s credibility and reputation. It was the Wall Street Journal first revealed the hidden debt in April 2016.

The Maputo City Judicial Court has rejected the request for a list of 35 witnesses submitted by defence lawyers in the hidden debts case. The trial, which began August 23, is considered as the biggest corruption case in Mozambique’s history and will see 19 defendants in the dock, with 70 witnesses and 69 declarants, according reports.

The defendants include Guebuza’s son Armando Ndambi Guebuza, and ex-president Guebuza’s former private secretary Inês Moiane and political adviser Renato Matusse as well as former director-general of the State Information and Security Service (SISE), Gregório Leão, and former director of economic intelligence of the institution António Carlos do Rosário.

Among the witnesses listed in the application by the lawyers, which have since been rejected, are the Mozambican President, Filipe Nyusi; the Prime Minister, Carlos Agostinho do Rosário; the Mozambican Justice Minister, Helena Kida; and Agriculture Minister, Celso Correia.

Kester Kenn Klomegah
Kester Kenn Klomegah
MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.