Maputo — The High Court in South Africa's Gauteng province on Friday morning rejected the decision by the former South African justice minister Michael Matsupha to extradite Mozambique's former finance minister, Manuel Chang, back to Maputo, according to the report on the Johannesburg proceedings carried by the independent television station STV.
This decision opens the way to a possible extradition of Chang to the United States where he faces charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering, wire fraud and securities fraud.
The High Court decided to put the matter into the hands of Matsupha's successor, Ronald Lamola.
Chang has been in police custody in Johannesburg ever since 29 December last year, when he was arrested at Johannesburg Airport, on the basis of an international arrest warrant issued by the United States. The US invoked its extradition treaty with South Africa.
Chang is wanted in both Mozambique and the US on charges arising from the scandal of Mozambique's "hidden loans" As Finance Minister in the government headed by President Armando Guebuza, Chang signed the illegal loan guarantees, in 2013 and 2014, which allowed three fraudulent companies to borrow over two billion US dollars from the banks Credit Suisse and VTB of Russia.
On 21 May, his last day in office, Matsupha, who had been appointed by President Jacob Zuma, decided to extradite Chang to Mozambique. But the new Minister sought to overturn Matsupha's decision, describing it as irrational and unlawful.
Lawyers for Chang and for the Mozambican government tried to persuade the High Court in Johannesburg that Matsupha took the right decision and that Chang should indeed be returned to Mozambique.
Lamola has now won this battle, and Matsupha's decision has been quashed. This does not guarantee that Chang will be sent to the US. The decision lies in Lamola's hands, and there remain avenues of appeal.
Acting as a Friend of the Court, a prominent South African NGO, the Helen Suzman Foundation told the judges that Lamola was correct to seek a review because South Africa is constitutionally obliged to ensure the effective prosecution of corruption even if the offence occurs outside of its borders.
The lawyer for the Mozambican government, Sami Modiba, said after the ruling "we will study the judgement itself. We will consult with our client, the Republic of Mozambique, and then we will make a decision on the way forward."