Mozambique: Mozambican Government Hires Law Firm in Chang Case

Maputo — The Mozambican government has hired a firm of South African lawyer, Mabunda Incorporated, based in Bedfordview, on the outskirts of Johannesburg, to intervene with the South African High Court, in an attempt to ensure that former Finance Minister Manuel Chang is extradited to Mozambique, and not to the United States.

Chang has been in police custody in Johannesburg since 29 December. He was detained on the basis of an international arrest warrant, issued by the United States justice authorities, who want him to stand trial in New York on charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering, wire fraud and security 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.

One of the last acts of the former South African Justice Minister, Michael Masupha, before leaving office, was to decide that Chang would be extradited to Mozambique rather than to the US. His successor, Roland Lamola, is trying to overturn that decision, and Chang's fate will probably be decided by the South African High Court in mid-August.

According to a report in Wednesday's issue of the independent newssheet "Carta de Mocambique", Mabunda Incorporated sent a letter dated 30 July to Chang's lawyer, Rudy Krause, to Ian Levitt, the lawyer hired by Mozambican civil society organisations, who want Chang extradited to the US, and to J. Van Schalwyk, the lawyer appointed by the Ministry of Justice, informing them that Mabunda has instructions from the Mozambican government to oppose the requests to overturn Masupha's decision.

On behalf of the government, Mabunda is putting in a counter-request, asking for Chang to be extradited to Maputo.

Mabunda has also requested that the hearing before the Gauteng Division of the High Court be delayed. The hearing was originally set for 13 August, but Mabunda has asked for a postponement until 5 September. The additional time is required so that Mabunda can organise its case, and confer with the Mozambican government.

For this postponement to occur, all the parties must agree to it, and that is far from certain.

This is the first time the Mozambican government has intervened directly in the case.

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