Maputo — The Mozambican government has spent at least 23 million rands (about 1.6 million US dollars) in payments to a South African law firm in its attempts to ensure that former Finance Minister Manuel Chang is extradited, not to the United States, but to Mozambique, according to a report by the anti-corruption NGO, the Centre for Public Integrity (CIP).
Chang was detained at Johannesburg International Airport in late December 2018 on the basis of an international arrest warrant issued by the US authorities. The US prosecutors want Chang to face trial in a New York court on charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering, wire fraud and securities fraud, arising from the scandal of Mozambique's "hidden debts".
The prosecutors invoked the extradition treaty between South Africa and the US. Weeks after Chang's detention, the Mozambican Attorney-General's Office also applied for Chang's extradition - even though there is no extradition treaty between the two countries, it was argued that the case can be covered by a protocol of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
In July 2019, the PGR hired the company Mabunda Incorporated Attorneys-at-Law to handle the Chang case. The contract with Mabunda, valid for a year, was signed on 30 July, and involved the immediate payment of three million rands, according to the invoice, now published by CIP.
The immediate goal of the PGR was to contest the appeal by South African Justice Minister Ronald Lamola against the decision of his predecessor, Michael Matsupha, to extradite Chang to Mozambique.
On 21 May, his last day in office, Matsupha, who had been appointed by President Jacob Zuma, decided to extradite Chang to Mozambique. But Lamola, an appointee of the new South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, sought to overturn Matsupha's decision, describing it as irrational and unlawful.
Mabunda, and Chang's own lawyers, attempted unsuccessfully to persuade the High Court in Johannesburg that Matsupha took the right decision and that Chang should indeed be returned to Mozambique.
This move failed and Lamola won his appeal. The High Court quashed Matsupha's decision. 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.
No decision is likely before February - and in the meantime, the PGR has to pay more fees to Mabunda. On 19 December, Mabunda informed the PGR that to contest the decision of the High Court, two appeals must be made - one to the Higher Appeals Court, seeking leave to appeal, and one to the Constitutional Court.
The PGR must pay ten million rands for each appeal, thus pushing the total spent on the case so far to 23 million rands.
The PGR accepted the price and on 22 December asked the National Directorate of Public Accounts to transfer the funds to Mabunda's account.
CIP has always opposed the government's attempts to bring Chang back to Maputo, and believes he should first stand trial in the US, although he could later be tried in Mozambique as well. CIP fears that extraditing Chang to Mozambique would be an attempt to prevent him from revealing further details about the hidden debts.
CIP urges the government to drop its opposition to extraditing Chang to the US. Instead, "it should concentrate its efforts on recovering the assets which the accused in the case, includimng Manuel Chang, illicitly obtained".