Maputo — Contrary to initial expectations. Mozambique's former finance Minister, Manuel Chang, was not extradited to Mozambique on Wednesday.
According to a report in the independent newssheet "Carta de Mocambique", the Johannesburg High Court, on Wednesday morning, accepted a request from a Mozambican civil society organization, the Budgetary Monitoring Forum (FMO), to suspend the extradition.
Preparations were already under way to send Chang back to Maputo. He was no longer in the hands of the South African police, but of Interpol, which was taking care of all the paperwork required to put into effect the extradition order made on Monday by South African Justice Minster Ronald Lamola.
Interpol requires three documents from Mozambique - a formal arrest warrant against Chang, the charge sheet against the former minister, and proof that his parliamentary immunity has been lifted. Chang was elected to the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, as a deputy for the ruling Frelimo Party, in the 2014 general elections.
But he was not a candidate in the subsequent elections, in 2019, since by that time, he was already a detainee in a South African jail. The question of parliamentary immunity thus no longer arises.
Chang was arrested at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on 27 December 2018, on the basis of an international arrest warrant, issued at the request of the US justice authorities. Chang was on his way from Maputo to Dubai
Both the US and the Mozambican judicial authorities submitted requests for Chang's extradition, to face charges in connection with the scandal of Mozambique's "hidden debts". It was Chang who had signed the loan guarantees which were crucial in persuading the European banks Credit Suisse and VTB of Russia, in 2013 and 2014, to lend over 2.2 billion US dollars to three fraudulent Mozambican companies, Proindicus, Ematum (Mozambican Tuna Company) and MAM (Mozambique Asset Management).
Without Chang's signature on the guarantees, the loans could not have gone ahead. With his signature, however, the Mozambican state became committed to repaying the loans, if the companies defaulted - which they soon did.
For two years the South African authorities have been unable to decide between the competing claims on Chang of Mozambique and the US. At one point, in May 2019, the South African Justice Minister of the time, Michael Masutha, decided that Chang would be returned to Mozambique.
But he was reaching the end of his term of office, and his successor, Roland Lamola, reversed his decision. The High Court, in October 2019, declared that Masutha's decision was illegal, but did not order the alternative - extradition to the US.
Instead, Lamola was told to reconsider the matter and choose whether to extradite Chang to Mozambique or to the US.
The FMO has been following the case right from the start, and has always argued that the interests of justice will be better served if Chang goes on trial in New York rather than in Maputo. Clearly it has persuaded the High court that there is some merit in its claim,
The documents required by Interpol will probably be sent to Pretoria later on Wednesday. But that will not be enough: the Johannesburg Higher Appeals Court must hear the FMO's arguments against extradition to Maputo. That hearing could be on Thursday.
If the extradition to Mozambique is halted, says "Carta de Mocambique", the FMO will request a court order obliging Lamola to extradite Chang to the US. Alternatively, the court could once again ask Lamola to rethink the matter.