Maputo — The Kempton Park Magistrates Court in Johannesburg on Wednesday again postponed the decision on whether to grant the request from the United States Justice Department for the extradition of former Mozambican Finance Minister Manuel Chang, but it insisted that Chang must remain in custody.
Chang has been in South African police custody since 29 December, when he was arrested at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, on his way to Dubai. He is wanted in the United States on charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering, wire fraud and securities fraud, arising from the scandal of the over two billion dollars of government guaranteed loans that went to the fraudulent companies Proindicus, Ematum (Mozambique Tuna Company), and MAM (Mozambique Asset Management) in 2013 and 2014.
At Wednesday's hearing, the judge, Sugra Subroyen, rejected the claim by Chang's defence team that his original arrest was illegal. "This court agrees with the state to consider that the arrest warrant is valid", she said. The detention of Chang had followed the procedures laid down in the extradition treaty between South Africa and the US, Subroyen added.
This destroyed the first strategy of the defence lawyers, which was to seek their client's immediate release on the grounds that he should never have been arrested in the first place.
According to the blow by blow coverage of the hearing given by the anti-corruption NGO, the Centre for Public Integrity (CIP) on its Facebook page, the defence then switched to requesting Chang's release on bail. The prosecutor, Elivera Dreyer, pointed out that, given the seriousness of the charges against Chang, any bail would have to be set at "level five" (that is, the most expensive).
The defence also protested at the conditions of Chang's incarceration. On Tuesday, he had been transferred to Modderberg prison, in Benoni. Here, according to his lawyers, he found himself sharing a cell with 20 other prisoners who were "undisciplined and smoked in the cell".
Serious overcrowding in prisons is common in both South Africa and Mozambique.
The judge suspended the hearing to consider this complaint, and when it resumed she declared that Chang would now have a private cell. But she announced no decision either on bail, or on the request for Chang's extradition.
The hearing will resume on Thursday.