South Africa

SA-US RELATIONS

US ‘very disappointed’ with SA vote on Venezuela

US ‘very disappointed’ with SA vote on Venezuela
US Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan attends a meeting with members of the Bosnian Presidency in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 17 December 2018. Sullivan is on an official visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina. EPA-EFE/FEHIM DEMIR

Washington also expects SA to extradite former Mozambican finance minister to the US — even though Pretoria says it has already decided to extradite him to Maputo.

The United States found it “very disappointing” that South Africa voted in the UN Security Council in February 2019 against a US resolution which called for fresh elections in Venezuela to resolve the worsening humanitarian crisis in the country.

US Assistant Secretary of State Tibor Nagy suggested that given South Africa’s own history of suffering it should have been more sympathetic to the suffering of the Venezuelan people under President Nicolás Maduro.

 Nagy said South Africa had often voted against the US in the UN. Referring to South Africa’s voting record in the UN General Assembly, he said since 2017 Pretoria had only voted with the US about 18% of the time, which put South Africa in the lowest 10% of countries voting with Washington.

Venezuela will definitely be on US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan’s agenda on his visit to South Africa, which began on Tuesday 12 March 2019, to meet government officials, civil society and business, Nagy said in a telephone briefing from Rwanda to African journalists.

Nagy was also adamant that Washington expects South Africa to extradite former Mozambican finance minister Manuel Chang to the US to face charges in a massive corruption case. South African authorities arrested him at OR Tambo International Airport in December on an Interpol arrest warrant requested by the US.

The US wants Chang to face a range of charges relating to allegedly receiving huge bribes to secure contracts for a French-based shipbuilding company to build a flotilla of tuna fishing boats and military patrol vessels for Mozambique.

According to the US indictment against Chang and several other suspects the fishing boat projects were from the start nothing but a scam to secure some $2-billion in foreign loans which were largely syphoned off into private bank accounts.

While Chang has been in a South African jail, the Mozambique government has also asked Pretoria to extradite him to Mozambique to face charges relating to the fishing boat scam.

Many Mozambican opposition politicians and civil society activists suspect that if Chang is extradited to Mozambique, Maputo will stifle the case as they believe that more senior politicians including then-President Armando Guebuza and current President Filipe Nyusi could be implicated.

It would be especially embarrassing for the ruling Frelimo party if they were found to have been involved, with national elections due in October.

Nyusi was defence minister when the fishing deals were signed and the civil society activists say he must have approved them as they were defence-related.

The activists say it is much more likely that the full truth of the scandal will emerge if Chang testifies in a US court. But International Relations and Co-operation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu told Daily Maverick in February that her government had already decided to extradite Chang to Mozambique.

This revelation caused some consternation as the Kempton Park Magistrate’s Court is still deliberating on the relative validity of both the US and Mozambican extradition requests.

However, it seems likely that in the end the decision will be taken by the government, not the courts, unless they find overwhelming reasons not to extradite him to either country.

Nagy noted in his briefing on Tuesday that the US has an extradition treaty with South Africa and was acting in accordance with it.

We expect both parties to honour it… the US expects the South African government to respond by extraditing him to the United States.”

Nagy indicated that Sullivan and South African government officials would also discuss the stiff tariffs which the US “properly” slapped on South African steel and aluminium imports in 2018, supposedly to protect national security.

He noted that the US Department of Commerce did consider requests for product-specific exemptions to those tariffs and had approved such exemptions to many US importers of South African steel and aluminium products in 2018.

Sullivan will also be visiting Angola on his Africa tour. Nagy said the US was “pleasantly, delightfully surprised” with what President Joao Lourenco was doing to clean out corruption since he took over in 2017. DM

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