Maputo — The South African Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Michael Masutha, has decided that former Mozambican Finance Minister Manuel Chang shall be extradited to Mozambique rather than the United States.
Chang has been in South African police custody since 29 December. He was detained at Johannesburg airport on the strength of an international arrest warrant issued by the US authorities. He is wanted in the US on charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering, wire fraud and securities fraud.
The charges arise from Chang's role in the largest financial scandal ever to hit Mozambique - the loans of over two billion dollars obtained in 2013 and 2014 by three fraudulent, security related companies from the banks Credit Suisse and VTB of Russia. The loans were only granted because of guarantees given by the Mozambican government of the time, led by President Armando Guebuza. Most of the guarantees were signed by Chang.
A US investigation determined that the real purpose of the loans was not, as claimed at the time, the protection of the Mozambican coast, or the creation of a tuna fishing fleet, but simply illicit enrichment. The US prosecutors estimated that at least 200 million dollars of the loan money was used for bribes and kickbacks.
The web of corruption, according to the US indictment, crossed continents - running from the Abu Dhabi based company Privinvest, which became the sole contractor for the three fraudulent companies, to crooked directors at Credit Suisse, and to Mozambican officials including Chang.
Weeks after the US request for extradition, the Mozambican Attorney-General's Office (PGR) also applied for Chang's extradition. He is wanted in Mozambique on a variety of charges related to the scandal, including corruption, embezzlement and abuse of office.
Mozambican prosecutors also charged about 20 others, and several of them are now in preventive detention, including Guebuza's oldest son, Ndambi Guebuza, and the former head of the security service (SISE), Gregorio Leao.
The PGR had been investigating the illicit loans since 2015, but it was only after the US indictment and Chang's detention in Johannesburg that the arrests occurred.
Chang appeared repeatedly in the Kempton Park Magistrates Court in Johannesburg, fighting against extradition to the US. The court eventually decided in April that both the American and the Mozambican requests fulfilled the South African legal criteria for extradition. The American request was covered by the extradition treaty between the US and South Africa. Although there is no extradition treaty between South Africa and Mozambique, the court held that the Mozambican request was covered by the SADC (Southern African Development Community) protocol on extradition.
Announcing his decision on Tuesday, Masutha said he had taken into consideration that Chang is a Mozambican citizen, that he had made a request to be extradited to his home country, and that "the alleged offence was committed whilst he was minister of state".
He said he had also considered "the onerous debt for Mozambique as a result of the alleged fraud", "the seriousness of the alleged offence, and "the interests of the States concerned". He did not specify what he considered those interests to be.
Masutha recognised that the US extradition request was submitted weeks before the Mozambican one, but said he was satisfied "that the interests of justice will be best served" by sending him back to Mozambique to stand trial.
Masutha failed to note that other key figures in the US indictment are already in the United States facing a New York court. One, Jean Boustani, is a Privinest salesman, who allegedly played a key role in arranging the bribes and kickbacks. The second is former Credit Suisse director, Detelvina Subeva, who pleaded guilty on Monday to the charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
There has been some speculation that the United States could still appeal against Masutha's decision, and that the legal battle could be taken to higher courts in South Africa.
In March, US Assistant Secretary of State Tibor Nagy in March said he expected South Africa to honour its extradition accord with the US.