Maputo — Mozambique's Attorney-General, Beatriz Buchili, on Wednesday once again insisted that former Finance Minister Manuel Chang should be extradited from South Africa to Mozambique, and not to the United States, to face charges in connection with Mozambique's "hidden debts"
This term refers to the loans for over two billion US dollars which three fraudulent, security- related companies, Proindicus, Ematum (Mozambique Tuna Company) and MAM (Mozambique Asset Management) obtained from the banks Credit Suisse and VTB of Russia in 2013 and 2014. The loans were granted on the basis of illicit government loan guarantees, which were mostly signed by Chang.
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had been investigating the scandal since 2015, partly because some of the company debt was sold on to American investors, and partly because the US financial system was used. Chang was detained at Johannesburg International Airport on 29 December 2018, on the basis of an international arrest warrant issued by the US prosecutors.
Since then, the US, invoking its extradition treaty with South Africa, has insisted that Chang should be extradited to New York to face charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering, wire fraud and securities fraud.
Shortly after Chang's detention in Johannesburg, the Mozambican Attorney-General's Office, also applied for his extradition, so that he can stand trial in Maputo over his role in the illicit loans and their guarantees. The decision to send Chang to New York or to Maputo is in the hands of the South African Justice Minister, Ronald Lamola.
Speaking in the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, where she was giving her annual report on the state of the Mozambican justice system, Buchili said that the absence of Manuel Chang was damaging all attempts to establish the full facts of the case, and to bring it speedily to trial.
"We are facing challenges because we are dealing with international organised crime which involves international business entities and financial instututions located in other jurisdictions", said Buchili. "We also face constraints concerning the procedures for the extradition of Manuel Chang which have been going on for a year in South Africa".
There are others accused in the case, and some of them have been under preventive detention in Maputo, for over a year. Buchili implied that they cannot be tried until Chang is back in Mozambique.
She criticised the US authorities for their failure to cooperate. The PGR has sought information from several other countries, including the US, the United Arab Emirates, Britain and Lebanon.
"Although we have insisted on countless occasions, the United States has still not replied to our requests", sad Buchili. "This prejudices the investigations and the speed that is required, and it contradicts all the principles of collaboration established by international conventions".
She said the PGR remains convinced that "no country other than Mozambique has the jurisdiction to put Manuel Chang and the others involved on trial".
Among those currently under preventive detention are Ndambi Guebuza, the oldest son of former President Armando Guebuza, the former head of the State Security and Intelligence Service (SISE), Gregorio Leao, and the SISE officer who became chairperson of all three fraudulent companies, Antonio do Rosario.
But Chang's name is not among those charged in this case. Buchili said he is one of the accused in an autonomous case. There are ten accused in this case, including Chang, five other Mozambicans and four foreigners. Buchili did not name them - but the foreign bodies most closely linked with the scandal are the two banks, Credit Suisse and VTB, and the Abu Dhabi based group, Privinvest, which became the sole contractor for Proindicus, Ematum and MAM.
Buchili said the goal of putting those involved in the "hidden debts" on trial is not merely to throw individuals into prison, but to seize assets resulting from criminal activity, and to reimburse the Mozambican state for the losses it has suffered.
In the preparatory investigations, she said, prosecutors have seized 29 properties, 25 vehicles, 845 head of cattle and various sums of cash - 53.1 million meticais (about 770,000 US dollars), 16,000 euros and 110,000 dollars.
Buchili confirmed that the PGR has requested the Maputo City court to order to dissolution of Proindicus, Ematum and MAM, on the grounds that their liquidity situation has fallen to less than half their nominal share value, and that they have been inactive for more than three years.