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South Africa backtracks on Mozambique’s extradition request

By Charlotte Mathews
Posted on Monday, 22 July 2019 18:01, updated on Monday, 5 August 2019 17:46

Manuel Chang awaits in a Johannesburg court hearing in January 2019. AP Photo/Phill Magakoe

Manuel Chang's fate may yet lie in a US courtroom.

South Africa’s latest decision to oppose the extradition of Mozambique’s former finance minister Manuel Chang to his home country is probably a reflection on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s commitment to fighting corruption rather than a new pro-United States policy, analysts say.

South Africa’s justice minister Ronald Lamola plans to oppose Chang’s urgent application, overturning a decision by his predecessor to surrender him over to Mozambican authorities.

What does it mean?

Chang is likely to get off lightly in Mozambique. If he faces trial in the US, the revelations could implicate other senior members of the ruling Frelimo party, jeopardising the party’s majority.

Chang was arrested at OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg in December after the US requested his arrest for his role in “an immense fraud and bribery scheme that took advantage of the US financial system, defrauded its investors and adversely impacted the economy of Mozambique”, according to the indictment.

Lamola said his decision was based on the fact that:

  • As a Member of Parliament, Chang may receive immunity from prosecution in Mozambique .
  • Allowing Chang to return to Mozambique may violate the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol, the South African Constitution and the Extradition Act

The US government, several civil society groups, and various commentators opposed the decision by Lamola’s predecessor, Michael Masutha to allow Chang’s extradition to Mozambique.They accused South Africa of putting regional solidarity and stability, ahead of justice.

Lamola’s stance seemed to be justified by legal principle, says Aditi Lalbahadur, the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) foreign policy programme manager, since Chang’s immunity in Mozambique would have protected him from prosecution.

“Obviously such decisions also have a political dimension,” Lalbahadur said this week. “Mozambique is an important partner for South Africa on many levels, politically and economically. But in this particular instance, South Africa’s new government is trying to take a very firm stance on being anti-corruption and anti-graft.”

  • By citing the SADC Protocol, Lamola was showing that his decision was being guided by an agreement to which Mozambique itself had subscribed, she added.

Fredson Guilengue, the regional deputy director at the Rosa Luxemburg Stifting – Southern Africa, said South Africa’s u-turn should be seen in the context of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s desire to portray South Africa as a country addressing corruption. He believes it would be embarrassing for South Africa to send Chang back to Mozambique to walk free.

Guilengue said if Chang were charged in Mozambique, the ruling Frelimo party would have to manage the case to avoid revelations that would put its senior members under extreme pressure. The current president stands for re-election in October.

  • Many Mozambicans had little faith in the ability of the local justice system to expose the facts and apply the necessary punishment. In this case, it was widely felt the best outcome would be to have Chang tried in the US, even if it resulted in the confiscation of the assets involved.

Background

Chang faces several allegations from his time as Mozambique’s finance minister.

  • Directed a US$2.2bnillion Credit Suisse loan extended in 2013 to a commercial account in Abu Dhabi rather than the Mozambican Central Bank. The loan was used by state-owned entities to buy a fleet of overpriced tuna fishing vessels, and military patrol craft, which have never really been used.
  • US Justice Department charges Chang along with other ministers, executives and investment bankers, of siphoning off about US$200m of the funds to their own bank accounts.
    One of three Credit Suisse bankers charged has pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to launder funds.

In 2016, the allegations caused Mozambique’s currency to fall, and international donors to suspend further loan. It was only after the Cyclone Idai disaster in March that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) granted Mozambique an emergency $118.2m loan.

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