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Former Mozambican finance minister avoids US extradition

Former Mozambican finance minister Manuel Chang will be extradited to Mozambique and not the United States, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha said in a statement on Tuesday. The US embassy responded by releasing a statement of their own, which expressed great disappointment at the decision taken by Masutha.

Masutha’s statement explored a number of factors as to why Chang, who is wanted in connection with the corruption surrounding Mozambique’s $2 billion loan scandal, will be extradited to Mozambique and not the US. He considered the following factors before coming to his decision: “…the accused is a citizen of Mozambique, the offence committed while he was a minister of the state in Mozambique, the onerous debt for Mozambique as a result of the alleged fraud, the submission by Chang to be extradited to his home country and the interests of the states concerned.

The US embassy in Pretoria responded with a statementof their own by saying that Chang “took advantage of the US financial system and defrauded US investors.” The ex-minister has three charges against him for securities and wire fraud and money laundering.

The three counts combined will result in a maximum sentence of 45 years if Chang is found guilty.

The US began an investigation into Chang in 2016. They found that, through a series of financial transactions between 2013 and 2016, Chang and his alleged co-conspirators arranged more than $2-billion (R27.8-billion) in fraudulent loans from international investment banks to state entities, purportedly controlled by the Mozambican government.

The former Mozambican minister was arrested at OR Tambo in December 2018 on a warrant issued by US authorities and has been in South African custody ever since.

The US embassy said that they had formally requested the extradition of Chang to the US before the Mozambican state requested that he be returned to his home country for trial.

While Masutha did acknowledge that the US submitted a request for Chang’s extradition a few weeks prior to Mozambique’s request, he felt that justice would best be served in Mozambique.

“I have noted that the request by the United States of America was submitted a few weeks prior to that of the Republic of Mozambique. However, having considered the matter in its full context, taking into account the criteria contained in both the US-SA Extradition Treaty, on the one hand, and the South African Development Community Protocol on Extradition, on the other, as well as the relevant facts, I am satisfied that the interest of justice will be best served by acceding to the request by the Republic of Mozambique. I have decided that the accused, Mr Manuel Chang, will be extradited to stand trial for his alleged offences in Mozambique,” Masutha said.

Masutha has taken the decision to extradite Chang to Mozambique despite a ruling by the Kempton Park magistrates court on April 8 that he be sent to the US. Magistrate William Schutte said that Chang was allegedly involved in various crimes that had taken place in New York City.

Reuters reports that Mozambique’s ruling party, Frelimo, would prefer to see Chang return to Mozambique rather than stand for trial in the US, according to Darias Jonker, Africa director at the Eurasia Group consultancy.

Jonker said that if Chang is extradited to the US, he could implicate members of the ruling party in the scandal ahead of an already tightly contested elections in October.

Since the Chang case got underway in Kempton Park, Mozambican authorities have arrested six people in connection with the case including Ndambi Guebuza, the son of former President Armando Guebuza, who was in power when the debt deals were done.

It looks as if Chang will be extradited to Mozambique and given a trial in his home country.

The US embassy has however urged the South African government to send Chang to the US to stand for trial as he has committed crimes, “which victimized U.S. citizens and robbed the Government of Mozambique of over $700 million.”

The Mozambican government has defaulted on the loan repayments amounting to up to $700-million, leaving investors exposed to millions in losses.

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Eyaaz Matwadia
Eyaaz Matwadia
Eyaaz Matwadia is a member of the Mail & Guardian's online team.

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