Mozambique gives up on battle to have bribery-accused former finance minister extradited

Manuel Chang, former finance minister of Mozambique. (Wikus de wet, AFP)
Manuel Chang, former finance minister of Mozambique. (Wikus de wet, AFP)

The Mozambican government has decided to withdraw bids to have its former finance minister Manuel Chang extradited, and leave it in the hands of Justice Minister Ronald Lamola - for now.

Chang is wanted by the US in connection with allegations of conspiracy to commit fraud and taking millions of dollars in bribes in a $2bn loan scandal, News24 previously reported.

The office of Mozambique's Attorney General revealed in a statement on Monday that its government had opted to withdraw its appeal requests to the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court.

"Considering that the process started in December 2018 and, taking into account the time and the negative implications that occur in the various processes that run terms inside and outside the country related to 'hidden debts', the Attorney General's Office instructed lawyers to withdraw the two pending requests in the South African courts, in order to give the Minister of Justice an opportunity to re-examine the case, based [on] new developments," the statement, written in Portuguese, reads.

It said it hoped that the withdrawal of the two appeals would accelerate a decision being reached.

In addition, the government claims that Chang has cases to answer in Mozambique.

It said defendants in the lawsuits involving Chang had already started appearing in court.

"Manuel Chang's absence is jeopardising the speed of the proceedings, as well as the full clarification of the facts.

"In view of the jurisdictional challenges faced by the USA in the case against Jean Boustani (one of Chang's co-accused) that culminated in his acquittal, the Attorney General's Office reinforced his understanding of being in a better position to hold Manuel Chang responsible," the statement says.

Court gives Lamola power to decide

In November last year, the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg ruled that Lamola should decide, anew, whether to extradite Chang to either the United States or his home country.

The court dismissed Chang's application to compel Lamola to give effect to his predecessor Michael Masutha's decision, setting aside the order to extradite him to Mozambique. To the extent that the former justice minister's decision dismissed the US extradition request, it was also set aside and both decisions were subsequently remitted to the Lamola for determination.

READ: Lamola holds former Mozambique finance minister's extradition fate in his hands after High Court ruling

During the proceedings, Lamola asked that Masutha's decision be reviewed and set aside on the basis that it was contrary to the provisions of the Extradition Act.

Masutha decided to have Chang - who was facing extradition requests from his home country and the US - extradited Mozambique rather than the US.

At the time, Chang enjoyed immunity in Mozambique, which meant that he could not be held accountable for his alleged crimes. This immunity was, however, reportedly lifted in January.

In Masutha's reasoning, he cited that "the interests of justice will be best served by acceding to the request by the Republic of Mozambique", News24 previously reported.

ALSO READ: Manuel Chang to be extradited from SA to Mozambique, not US

The former finance minister was arrested at OR Tambo International Airport on December 29 while on his way to Dubai last year.

The Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services declined to comment at this stage.

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