Mozambique: Chang Extradition Hearing Postponed to October

Maputo — The South African High Court has postponed until October the decision on whether to extradite Mozambique's former Finance Minister, Manuel Chang, to Mozambique or to the United States.

The extradition hearing was to have taken place this Tuesday, 13 August, but a spokesperson for the South African Justice Ministry, cited by the Portuguese news agency Lusa, confirmed the postponement.

The new dates for the hearing are 16 and 17 October. Coincidentally or otherwise, this is immediately after the Mozambican general elections, scheduled for 15 October.

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 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.

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, Ronald Lamola, is trying to overturn that decision, and Chang's fate now rests in the hands of Gauteng division of the South African High Court.

There are two requests to review Masupha's decision - one from Lamola, and one from a range of Mozambican civil society organisations, represented by the Budget Monitoring Forum (FMO).

Lamola argued that the decision to allow extradition to Mozambique was wrong because Chang, as a member of the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, enjoyed immunity from arrest, and because no formal charges had yet been laid against him in Mozambique.

Chang took care of the first problem by resigning his seat in the Assembly in late July. But there are still no charges against him, and time is running out. The Mozambican prosecutors have another two days to file a charge sheet against Chang.

The Mozambican government intervened in the case for the first time in late July, when it hired a South African law firm, Mabunda Incorporated, to try to persuade the South African courts to uphold Masupha's decision and send Chang back to Maputo.

The Mabunda lawyers argued they needed more time to prepare, and so proposed that the hearing be postponed to 3 September. The court, however, opted for a much longer postponement, setting 16 October as the date for the hearing.

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