The United States has deeply expressed disappointment over South Africa’s decision to extradite Mozambique’s former Finance Minister Manuel Chang to Maputo (Mozambique), to face court trial over alleged corruption and accepting huge bribes, the official statement from the US Department of Justice showed.
US Justice Department spokeswoman Nicole Navas said that “the US government is deeply disappointed with the South African government’s decision to extradite Manuel Chang to Mozambique instead of the United States. Mozambique’s former finance minister is accused in the United States of defrauding US citizens of millions of dollars and causing significant harm to Mozambique and its people.”
The US administration stresses that “justice would be best served by extraditing Mr. Chang to the United States,” but the US Justice Department promises to continue its “commitment to pursue large-scale fraud, bribery and money laundering and hold those responsible accountable.”
Manuel Chang was Mozambique’s finance minister during President Armando Guebuza’s government between February 2005 and December 2014 and gave the go-ahead for secret loans worth around two billion euros.
According to the US investigation, much of the fraud and money laundering took place through transfers processed by banking institutions in New York.
In the context of the US government indictment, submitted on 19 December 2018, US prosecutors explained the request to extradite Manuel Chang to New York by the seriousness of the criminal offence, risk of flight and “irrefutable evidence of guilt”. J
ean Boustani, a Lebanese businessman tried in the same case, was found not guilty by the US jury on December 2, 2019, because prosecutors failed to convince the jury that the case was relevant to the United States.
A spokesperson for the South African justice ministry explained that Manuel Chang, detained since 29 December 2018 in South Africa at the request of the US, will be “handed over to the Mozambican authorities to be tried under Mozambican law for abuse of position and function, violation of budget laws, fraud, embezzlement, passive corruption, money laundering and criminal association.”
The decision announced on Monday ended a multi-year stalemate, as in October 2019 South Africa’s High Court ruled previous Justice Minister Michael Masutha’s decision to extradite Manuel Chang to Mozambique invalid as he “still enjoyed immunity” in his country, referring the case back to the new Justice Minister Ronald Lamola.
The transfer of Manuel Chang from the Modderbee Correctional Centre, east of Johannesburg, to the authorities in Mozambique is being facilitated by the International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL), according to a spokesman for the South African Justice and Correctional Services.
According to the US indictment, Chang guaranteed debts of over US$2.2 billion (about two billion euros) contracted in favour of public companies Ematum, Proindicus and MAM, linked to fishing and maritime security in Mozambique. Reports further indicated that many US investors had lost money in what was described as a US$2 billion loan scam involving two banks, the Credit Suisse and the Russian VTB bank.
The secrecy and corruption surrounding the loans dealt devastating blows to Mozambique’s credibility and reputation. It was the Wall Street Journal first revealed the hidden debt in April 2016.The Maputo City Judicial Court has rejected the request for a list of 35 witnesses submitted by defence lawyers in the hidden debts case.
The trial, which began August 23, is considered as the biggest corruption case in Mozambique’s history and will see 19 defendants in the dock, with 70 witnesses and 69 declarants, according reports.
The defendants include Guebuza’s son Armando Ndambi Guebuza, and ex-president Guebuza’s former private secretary Inês Moiane and political adviser Renato Matusse as well as former director-general of the State Information and Security Service (SISE), Gregório Leão, and former director of economic intelligence of the institution António Carlos do Rosário.
Among the witnesses listed in the application by the lawyers, which have since been rejected, are the Mozambican President, Filipe Nyusi; the Prime Minister, Carlos Agostinho do Rosário; the Mozambican Justice Minister, Helena Kida; and Agriculture Minister, Celso Correia.