International Relations

Mozambican anti-corruption watchdogs aim to block former finance minister Manuel Chang’s extradition

Manuel Chang, the former finance minister of Mozambique. (YouTube screengrab)

Anrti-corruption watchdog authorities believe he will escape justice in Mozambique and should be sent to face trial in the US instead.

Mozambican anti-corruption watchdogs are scrambling to try to stop South Africa from extraditing former Mozambican finance minister Manuel Chang to Mozambique to face fraud, corruption and money laundering charges.

They believe he will escape justice in Mozambique and should be sent to face trial in the US instead. 

Chang has been held in a South African jail since 29 December 2018 while the South African government decided whether to extradite him to Mozambique or to the US to stand trial for receiving millions of dollars of bribes in a $2.2-billion loan scam in 2013 and 2014. 

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola finally confirmed on Monday that he had decided to send Chang home to Mozambique and not to the US. Lamola himself had in 2019 persuaded the Johannesburg High Court to overturn his predecessor Michael Masutha’s decision to extradite Chang to Mozambique.

But on Monday Lamola said circumstances had changed since then. In 2019 Chang still enjoyed immunity from prosecution as a member of Parliament and the Mozambique authorities had not yet indicted him in the corruption case. 

“The court stated that ‘it would make no sense to extradite a person to a place where he cannot be prosecuted’,” Lamola said, referring to the Johannesburg High Court’s 2019 decision. 

But since then Chang’s immunity from prosecution had been lifted and he had been “duly indicted by the Mozambican government”, Lamola said. 

And so South Africa would hand him over to the Mozambican authorities to face charges of “abuse of position and function; violation of budget laws; fraud by deception; embezzlement; passive corruption for unlawful money laundering; and criminal association”.

The US government has expressed disappointment at Lamola’s decision. The US charged Chang in the case back in 2018 and it was on these charges that South African authorities arrested him in transit at OR Tambo International Airport on 29 December 2018.

The US applied to South Africa to extradite him at the end of January 2019 and it was a few days later that Mozambique also applied for his extradition – even though it had indicted him. Mozambique’s Forum de Monitoria do Orcamento (FMO – Forum for Monitoring the Budget) joined Lamola in 2019 in asking the Johannesburg High Court to overturn Masutha’s decision to extradite him to Mozambique. 

The FMO said it was convinced that the Mozambican authorities would not give Chang a proper trial for fear that he would reveal too much about the complicity of other high-ranking members of the government. The FMO asked why Mozambique had not indicted Chang five years after his alleged corruption and had only done so after the US indicted him. 

And on Monday FMO Director Antonio Nuvunga wrote to the organisation’s South African attorneys saying the FMO was disappointed at Lamola’s decision to extradite Chang to Mozambique. 

“This is a victory for impunity, and all Southern African civil society organisations should come together to stop the triumph of impunity,” he wrote. 

Nuvunga said he agreed with the idea of writing to Lamola to ask him not to deliver Chang to the Mozambican authorities before August 30. Other sources said this would give the FMO time to mount a legal challenge against Lamola’s decision. 

Jorge Matine, a member of the FMO board, told Daily Maverick on Monday night that the organisation’s lawyers were still trying to decide on their options. But he confirmed that the “FMO is preparing to intercede in the matter” in one way or another. He said he believed Chang was still in South Africa, although the Department of Justice had not confirmed this. 

He noted that the FMO’s actions might also be determined by facts on the ground in Maputo where 19 other high-level defendants in the same loan scam went on trial on Monday.

Matine said Chang’s name was not among the list of defendants. There has been some speculation that Chang could be called as a witness in the trial now under way, but a senior Mozambican journalist told Daily Maverick that Chang would be tried separately. 

Among those currently standing trial in Maputo are several figures close to the former president Armando Guebuza, including his son Ndambi. The court heard on Monday that Ndambi Guebuza received a $33-million bribe, some of which he was supposed to pass on to others. But he was reluctant to do so and apparently kept most of it for himself, according to a report by the Mozambique Information Agency, AIM.

In 2013 and 2014 Chang, as finance minister, allegedly took a bribe from the company Privinvest to sign a guarantee by the Mozambican government to cover about $2.2-billion in secret loans to three parastatal companies, from Credit Suisse and the Russian VTB bank. These were to purchase tuna fishing trawlers, military patrol vessels and support equipment and services from Privinvest, which was based in Abu Dhabi and Lebanon. 

The purchases were supposed to launch a profitable national tuna fishing industry, with the patrol vessels protecting Mozambique’s fishing waters from encroachment by foreign fishing boats. But the US indictment against Chang and others alleges the real purpose of the project was to elicit loans to pay bribes and that the tuna fishing industry was just a cover. In any event, not a single tuna was caught and all the boats are rotting on dry land.

The US Department of Justice indicted Chang and others in the case because it said that Credit Suisse and VTB had passed on the loans to secondary investors, many of whom were Americans who lost their money in the fraudulent deal. DM


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