Maputo — A group of Mozambican NGOs, organised under the umbrella of the Budget Monitoring Forum (FMO), is trying to persuade the South African government to reverse its decision to extradite former Mozambican Finance Minister Manuel Chang to Mozambique rather than to the United States, according to a report in Wednesday's issue of the independent newssheet "Carta de Mocambique".
Chang has been in police custody in South Africa since 19 December. He was detained on the basis of an international arrest warrant issued by the US Justice Department, which wants him extradited to New York to face charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering, wire fraud and securities fraud.
The charges arise out of the gigantic scandal whereby, based on government guarantees signed by Chang in 2013 and 2014, three fraudulent, security related companies, Ematum (Mozambican Tuna Company), Proindicus and MAM (Mozambique Asset Management), obtained loans of more than two billion US dollars from the banks Credit Suisse and VTB of Russia. Since the companies are not, and never were, viable, the Mozambican state is liable to repay the full amount.
The US investigations showed that at least 200 million dollars of the loan money was spent on bribes and kickbacks. The US claims jurisdiction because American banks were used in the money laundering scheme, and some of the debt was sold on to American investors.
The Mozambican Attorney-General's Office (PGR) also wants to put Chang on trial on charges arising from the Ematum, Proindicus and MAM loans - but in Maputo, not in New York.
Faced with requests for extradition from both Mozambique and the United States, the then South African Minister of Justice, Michael Masutha, on 21 May decided that Chang should be sent back to Maputo. On 2 July, Chang's South African lawyer, Rudi Krause, submitted a request for Chang's immediate repatriation to Mozambique.
The US authorities had until 9 July to appeal against Masutha's decision, but failed to do so. Instead it opted for what it called "high level diplomacy".
But Chang has not been put on a plane to Maputo, and "Carta de Mocambique" suggests this is because of the intervention of the FMO. Faced with the FMO's appeal, the new South African Justice Minister, Ronald Lamola, has several more weeks to review the case.
Much of Mozambican civil society has a deep distrust of the Mozambican legal system, and believes that justice is more likely to be done in a New York court, rather than a Mozambican one.
The 19 NGOs grouped under the FMO sent their request to the Gauteng Division of the High Court of South Africa. The lengthy FMO document contains a range of factual and legal arguments intended to convince the South African authorities that it makes more sense to extradite Chang to the US than to Mozambique.
The FMO request is signed by Ian Levitt, the South African lawyer hired by the FMO, who argues that Masutha's decision violated the South African constitution.
Levitt said that Masutha's decision should be suspended, and warned that dispatching Chang to Mozambique would be a violation of South African and international law. "The international reputation of South Africa would be severely affected", he said, "and the rights of Mozambican society would be affected".
Levitt said there was no evidence that Chang has been formally charged with crimes in Mozambique. The Mozambican request for extradition did not include any charge sheet against the former minister, whereas the American request included the detailed indictment against Chang and his alleged co-conspirators.
Furthermore, Levitt pointed out, Chang is still a member of the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, and so enjoys immunity from prosecution. Although the Assembly chairperson, Veronica Macamo, has insisted that he will be arrested as soon as he sets foot in Mozambique, the hard fact is that to date Chang's immunity has not been lifted.
It may be that Lamola will eventually implement Masutha's decision - but for the immediate future it seems likely that Chang will remain in a South African prison cell.