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Protesters at Pretoria embassy demand accountability for Mozambique corruption

Protesters at Pretoria embassy demand accountability for Mozambique corruption
The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network held a picket at the High Commission of Mozambique in Pretoria. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

On Monday, a small group of civil society anti-corruption activists, mostly from Mozambique, held a picket outside the Mozambican High Commission in Pretoria. The picket included several activists from the Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network and the Human Rights Institute of SA.

According to Elpideo Mutemba, the advocacy coordinator of the Khulumani anti-corruption project, the picket and the press conference took place in Pretoria because, in Mozambique, “there’s no freedom of speech. We can’t demonstrate and talk there.” 

The picket successfully drew attention to continued delays in the decision of South Africa’s Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Ronald Lamola, regarding the extradition of Mozambique’s former finance minister, Manuel Chang, to stand trial for corruption – either in the United States or in Mozambique.

Adriano Nuvunga, the director of the Centro Para Democracia E Desenvolvimento, (CDD), handed a memorandum to a Mr Maceda, a counsellor at the high commission, calling for Chang to be extradited to the USA “to stand trial along with international associates who colluded with him in this corrupt scheme.” 

They are also calling for their government to “repudiate the illicit debt based on evidence that there was no proper due diligence conducted by the lenders”. 

Maceda was not willing to comment, other than to say that it was up to SA, the USA and Mozambique to sort out the extradition, which is “being dealt with by the proper authorities”.  

Chang was arrested at OR Tambo International Airport on 29 December 2018 on an international arrest warrant issued by US prosecutors. He has been held at Modderbee Prison in Benoni, Johannesburg, since then while the legal and political issues related to the fraud and money-laundering associated with illicit loans were investigated. However, Justica Nacional, a Mozambican media website, alleges that he is being treated with kid gloves in prison.

Police interact with the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network during their picket at the High Commission of Mozambique in Pretoria. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

“Manuel Chang was never abandoned by Frelimo. He’s big. Although he is annoyed at being in jail for more than two years without being able to fully enjoy the money he stole from us, he still has the unconditional support of his comrades,” the website said. 

“Only Chang can confirm whether Filipe Nyusi received the default money or not, as Iskandar Safa and Jean Boustani insistently claim.”

Nuvunga says they are afraid of “complicity” between Frelimo and the ANC. Previously, a decision to extradite Chang to Mozambique had been taken by former justice minister Michael Masutha. However, in November 2019, the Johannesburg High Court overturned this decision and determined that the country of Chang’s extradition should be decided by the new justice minister, Ronald Lamola.

Mozambican anti-corruption activists have been waiting since then.  The court judgment notes that, even at that time, “civil society in Mozambique was frustrated by the apparent lack of progress in the investigations in Mozambique”.

Possible reasons for Lamola’s delay in the matter are attributed to divisions in SA’s Cabinet, as reported in this recent article in Daily Maverick.

The Mozambican anti-corruption activists say they want to see Chang extradited to the United States because Mozambique’s ruling party, Frelimo, has failed to show “competent and courageous political management of this crisis despite its desperate need for money”. They also argue that, to date, no public admission has been made that the loans were corrupt and should therefore be repudiated. 

The Budget Monitoring Project of Mozambique/Forum de Monitoria Do Orcamento, (FMO), was the applicant in the 2019 case to have the first extradition decision reviewed. Together with the Mozambican Center for Public Integrity, they have supported the advocacy being conducted in South Africa. 

They believe that trying this case in the United States could “serve as the beginning of a global process of holding parties involved in economic crimes responsible for the consequences of these crimes and serve as a deterrent for corrupt activities committed by the politically connected in Mozambique and elsewhere in the SADC region”.

One of the members of the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network displays a protest message. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

‘Implement African Union protocols and declarations’

The Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network says corruption is a problem across the region; one that deepens poverty and inequality. Nuvunga links it to the deepening humanitarian crisis in his country, which has “taken away” the capacity of the state to deal with the insurgency in Cabo Delgado.  

According to Corlett Letlojane, executive director of the Human Rights Institute of South Africa, it is ironic that 2018 – the year Chang was arrested – was declared the African Union year “of winning the fight against corruption”. She also points to the fact that the AU Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption had been adopted in 2003 in Maputo. 

And once again, activists criticised the disbanding of the SADC Tribunal which, they say, renders the SADC Protocol Against Corruption toothless when member states fail to comply and instead gang up to protect their respective elites. 

For example, they argue that although the loans scandal had been public knowledge for some time, it was only after South Africa arrested Chang that Mozambican officials formally charged Chang with an offence. 

Mozambican prosecutors have so far failed to demonstrate seriousness in the matter, despite Mozambique being a party to the UN Convention Against Corruption.  

However, Mozambique’s attorney-general, Beatrice Buchili, has claimed that the absence of Chang has been damaging the country’s attempts to establish the full facts of the case and to bring the matter speedily to trial. She has claimed that “no country other than Mozambique has the jurisdiction to put Manuel Chang and the others involved on trial”. 

It appears, though, that Mozambique has still not actually charged Chang with a criminal offence, but only with administrative violations of fiscal rules for which the penalty is merely a fine. 

Placards and fists were held up at the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network picket. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

In this context, the picket outside the Mozambican High Commission sought to highlight the fact that it is unlikely Chang will be held to account for the financial crimes that have further impoverished an already very poor country, if his extradition to Mozambique proceeds. 

The activists say the Mozambican government has allegedly already spent more than $20-million on efforts to prevent Chang’s extradition to the United States to stand trial.

Letlojane says the decision on Chang is “a chance for SA to promote the rule of law in the region” but – citing the Omar al-Bashir extradition case – warns that an “unlawful decision” would again be challenged by civil society in court. A spokesperson for justice minister Lamola, Chrispin Phiri, responded to questions from Maverick Citizen yesterday: 

“The Minister is considering various legal opinions on the interpretation of the various applicable laws. These laws vary from the African Charter on Human Rights and Peoples rights (sic), and the SADC protocol. Depending on the legal instrument at hand one is required to determine the extent of the instrument’s domestication. 

“The information at hand requires the Minister to consider various aspects of international and regional law alongside our Constitution.”

Eighteen months after he was given this task, it seems rather late to be asking these questions. However, for now, the ball is back in Lamola’s court. DM/MC


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