Mozambique: Assembly Commission Gives Green Light to Detaining Chang

Mozambique's former finance minister Manuel Chang appears in court during an extradition hearing in Johannesburg.

Maputo — The Commission on Constitutional and Legal Affairs of the Mozambican Parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on Monday declared that the legal conditions exist for the preventive detention of former finance Minister Manuel Chang.

Chang is currently in police custody in Johannesburg, where he is fighting extradition to the United States. US prosecutors wish to try him in New York on charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering, wire fraud, and securities fraud.

Last Friday the Mozambican Supreme court sent a request to the Assembly Chairperson, Veronica Macamo, seeking authorization for Chang's detention. As a member of the Assembly, Chang enjoys Parliamentary immunity, and so authorization from the Assembly is required before he can be detained.

The Legal and Constitutional Affairs Commission has submitted its opinion to the Assembly's Governing Board, the Standing Commission, which should take a definitive decision on Tuesday.

At a Maputo press conference on Monday, the Commission Chairperson, Edson Macuacua, said "the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Commission believes that all the foundations and constitutional and legal requirements exist for the Assembly to consent to the preventive detention of Deputy Manuel Chang, so that the case underway in the competent Judicial bodies can continue with the necessary normality".

The Commission's opinion shows that the Supreme Court's request was full of legal mistakes. It cited laws that have been revoked and the penal code of 1886 rather than the revised penal code of 2014. Nonetheless, the Commission considered that these are only formal problems that do not prevent the Assembly from taking a position.

The decision was taken by the majority on the Commission, formed by deputies of the ruling Frelimo Party. Deputies from the two opposition parties, the former rebel movement Renamo and the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), objected. Renamo noted that although the Supreme Court claimed that Chang is a suspect in the case of the "hidden debts" opened by the Attorney General's Office in 2015 the Attorney General herself, Beatriz Buchili, had said in her last three annual reports to the Assembly that there were no suspects in this case. Renamo added that only after Chang's arrest in South African was it suddenly announced that there are 18 suspects.

Furthermore, the Mozambican Constitution states that a Deputy may only be detained or arrested if caught in the act. Under other circumstances the consent of the Assembly is only requested if it is necessary to bring the Deputy to trial. The MDM group had similar objections.

It seems that the Standing Commission, if it approves the Supreme Court request, must then put it before a plenary session of the full Assembly. This means either calling an extraordinary session of the Assembly, merely to discuss Chang, or to put the matter on the agenda for the next ordinary sitting due to begin on 28 February.

But by that time the South African court will have decided whether or not to extradite Chang to New York.

The charges against Chang according to the Supreme Court, include abuse of office, corruption, fraud and money laundering. The charges, both by the American and the Mozambican prosecutors, arise from Chang's role in issuing illicit guarantees for loans of over 2 billion US dollars obtained from the banks Credit Suisse and VTB of Russia, by the fraudulent companies, Proindicus, Ematum (Mozambique Tuna Company) and MAM (Mozambique Asset Management).

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