Manuel Chang, former finance minister of Mozambique.
A group of Mozambican NGOs have approached a court to halt Manuel Chang’s extradition to Mozambique. The group also wants Minister Justice Ronald Lamola’s decision to extradite Chang overturned. The South African and Mozambican governments are opposing the attempt to halt the extradition.Mozambique’s former finance minister will spend at least three more weeks in a South African prison after the hearing to halt his extradition was postponed on Friday.
The Johannesburg High Court is considering an appeal by a group of Mozambican civil society organisations to stop Manuel Chang from returning to Mozambique.
On Monday, Minister Ronald Lamola ordered Chang’s extradition to Mozambique after more than two years of legal and political wrangling. The ministry of justice and correctional services opposed the application.
The Budget Monitoring Forum, known by the Portuguese acronym FMO, approached the court on Tuesday for an urgent order to prevent Chang from leaving South Africa. The group also wants the court to set aside Lamola’s decision, and instead extradite the former finance minister to the United States of America.
READ | Justice dept to oppose bid to stop extradition of Mozambique’s former finance minister
All parties agreed to postpone the matter to be heard on 17 September, allowing all sides to give the issue more attention. It would also allow Chang to submit an affidavit to the court in his personal capacity, his lawyers said.
“When I saw the application, I thought, ‘Oh, this matter has now finally been resolved’, because the last time I heard, I thought it had gone on appeal so when I read the papers, I thought, tju, this is a long period,” said Judge Edwin Molahlehi, expressing his personal opinion as he urged the parties to reach an agreement on the timeframe.
Despite this most recent postponement, the case remains an urgent matter for the courts, particularly considering Chang’s imprisonment since December 2018.
Molahlehi said in the virtual hearing:
This case involves the issue of the liberty of a person. This person has been sitting in jail for two years without clarity as to what his own status and future position is.
In its argument, the Mozambican government is adamant that it will prosecute Chang, pointing to the current trial and a warrant of arrest for Chang in Mozambique. Their “hands are tied”, however, until the matter is heard in South Africa, attorneys for the Mozambican government said.
“From the Mozambican side, we find ourselves in a serious predicament because we want the man as of yesterday but then there are legal processes that must follow,” said William Mokhare, representing the attorney for the Mozambican government.
READ | Why the extradition of Mozambique’s former finance minister is on hold
The former finance minister is a key figure in Mozambique’s historic $2 billon so-called hidden debt scandal that spanned several countries. Chang was arrested at OR Tambo International Airport in December 2018 following an international warrant of arrest. Chang is also wanted in the United States, which filed an extradition application with South Africa in 2019.
As Mozambique discovered large off-shore gas deposits nearly a decade ago, officials and the politically connected hoping to cash in set up three companies through which they borrowed $2 billion from Credit Suisse and VTB Russia between 2013 and 2014 —amounting to 12% of Mozambique’s GDP.
Instead of developing maritime and security projects, as proposed to debtors, it was distributed among corrupt individuals. Chang is accused of signing off on guarantees that led to the so-called hidden debt scandal.
This week saw the start of that corruption trial, in which 19 people are accused of a raft of charges including embezzlement and fraud. Chang’s case, however, would be tried as a separate matter, according to the NGOs, who fear he will not face justice at all.
The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of Hanns Seidel Foundation.
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