Why the extradition of Mozambique's former finance minister is on hold

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Manuel Chang, former finance minister of Mozambique, appears at the Kempton Park Magistrates court. (Photo by Wikus De Wet / AFP)
Manuel Chang, former finance minister of Mozambique, appears at the Kempton Park Magistrates court. (Photo by Wikus De Wet / AFP)
  • A group of Mozambican civil society organisations approached a Johannesburg High Court to stop the extradition of Mozambique's former finance minister.
  • The group believes Manuel Chang will not face the law in Maputo, where he is politically connected.
  • The case will be heard in Johannesburg on Friday, 27 August.

The extradition of Mozambique's former finance minister, Manuel Chang, is on hold after Mozambican civil society groups approached a South African court to halt the process.

In a draft order, made final by the Johannesburg High Court on Wednesday, Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola agreed to halt the extradition process until the matter is heard.

The Budget Monitoring Forum, the largest umbrella organisation for civil society groups in Mozambique, approached the court on Tuesday to stop South Africa from handing Chang over to Mozambican authorities.

The Forum de Monitora do Orcamento, known by its Portuguese acronym, FMO, approached the court after Lamola announced his decision to extradite Chang, who has been in a South African prison since his arrest at OR Tambo International Airport in December 2018.

READ | SA extradites former Mozambique finance minister back home, after years of wrangling with US

South Africa has, for years, wrangled over whether to send Chang back to Maputo, or extradite him to the United States, where he has also been indicted on corruption charges.

"It is important to challenge this extradition because it serves impunity, it serves corruption, it serves state capture not only in Mozambique, but in southern Africa," said Adriano Nuvunga, chairperson of the FMO.

Lamola's decision to extradite Chang coincided with the beginning of the largest corruption trial in Mozambique's history on Monday. The case centres on the so-called hidden debt of over $2 billion (more than R30.5 billion).

As Mozambique discovered large off-shore gas deposits nearly a decade ago, officials and the politically connected hoping to cash in set up three companies through which they borrowed $2 billion from Credit Suisse and VTB Russia between 2013 and 2014 —amounting to 12 percent of Mozambique's GDP. Instead of developing maritime and security projects, as proposed to debtors, it was distributed among corrupt individuals.

Chang is accused of signing off on guarantees that led to the so-called hidden debt scandal.

While Chang was head of treasury, the Mozambican public purse was named as guarantor for a debt that was equal to 12 percent of country's GDP and which it is unable to repay. The loans were sold as misrepresented bonds to investors in the US and around the world.

READ | US 'dismayed' by South Africa's decision to extradite former finance minister to Mozambique

Chang was stripped of parliamentary immunity in 2019.

Yet, despite playing a central role in the scandal that cost Mozambicans over R168 billion in public funds, civil society groups fear that Chang may still not face justice.

While the case against the 19 accused currently on trial has been built since 2015, there was no case against Chang until he was arrested in South Africa, said Nuvunga.

Civil society believes the case itself was created to justify Chang's extradition to Mozambique, instead of the United States.

The case against Chang has lingered in the extradition tussle and there is no guarantee that he will face justice, or even be arrested on arrival in Mozambique, said Nuvunga.

Despite languishing in a South African prison for nearly three years, Chang remains a powerful figure in Mozambique's political elite.

"For the past 15 years, he was the mastermind of the wasteful management of Mozambique's resources," said Nuvunga, accusing the former finance minister of distributing corrupt funds among the country's political elite.

"Lots of people owe favours to him, including from the judiciary, so there is no guarantee that he will be taken to court."

EXPLAINER | The $2bn Mozambique corruption trial - with an SA link - finally heads to court

Nuvunga fears those favours extend to South Africa, where Frelimo and the ANC enjoy a long relationship as liberation movements turned ruling parties.

The violence in Mozambique's Cabo Delgado province has also created a political economy in which South Africans could benefit.

"There are no new facts here, based on which Lamola would have taken his decision, so we believe this is a case between Pretoria and Maputo," said Nuvunga. "The elites, who benefit from these decisions, are exchanging favours."

The Mozambican government is named as a respondent in the high court case, along with the director of public prosecutions, the minister and director-general of the home affairs department, Chang, Lamola and the Helen Suzman Foundation.

The case will be heard on Friday, 27 August.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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