Maputo — Mozambique's former Finance Minister, Manuel Chang, was arrested at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on Saturday, on charges of money laundering and other financial crimes.
The Mozambican embassy in South Africa confirmed Chang's detention to the independent television station STV.
Chang was detained in response to an international arrest warrant issued by the United States authorities. The warrant from a Pretoria magistrate, now circulating on the Internet, cites the American document, and says Chang faces charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit securities fraud, and money laundering.
"Wire fraud" is defined as any attempt to obtain money fraudulently using electronic means. "Securities fraud" is fraudulent activity involving stock or commodity markets.
Initial reports suggested this has nothing to do with the scandal of Mozambique's "hidden debts" in which Chang was a key player.
Chang was Finance Minister throughout the ten years in which Armando Guebuza was Mozambican President (2005-2015). Chang signed many of the illegal guarantees for over two billion dollars of loans obtained in 2013 and 2014 by the three security-related companies Ematum (Mozambique Tuna Company), Proindicus and MAM (Mozambique Asset Management) from the European banks Credit Suisse and VTB of Russia.
The companies were recent creations and had no track record at all. The loans were only possible because the Guebuza government guaranteed them. The guarantees were entirely illegal because they smashed through the ceiling on guarantees established by the budget laws passed in 2013 and 2014.
As the Finance Minister who introduced those laws into the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, Chang knew perfectly well that the guarantees were illegal. Yet he signed them.
The Americans want to extradite Chang. If they succeed, and if the charges stand up in an American court, Chang could be facing a 40 year jail term. Since he is currently 63 years old, that would mean spending the rest of his life in an American jail cell.
That prospect would certainly tempt him to cooperate with the US authorities by telling them anything he may know about other people involved in financial crimes, in exchange for a shorter sentence. Such plea bargaining is common in the US legal system. Chang certainly has detailed insider knowledge of Mozambican finances throughout the decade of the Guebuza governments.
Since leaving the government in early 2015, Chang has been a member of parliament for the ruling Frelimo Party. He has kept a low profile, not speaking in the plenary sessions of the Assembly.