Maverick Citizen

COMBATING GRAFT OP-ED

Manuel Chang case shows how public interest litigation can further accountability for economic crimes

Manuel Chang case shows how public interest litigation can further accountability for economic crimes
Former Mozambican finance minister Manuel Chang is set to face trial in the US. (Photo: Flickr / IMF)

Civil society needs to review its work and think hard about how to tackle the phenomenon of corruption, money laundering and illicit financial flows that have paralysed southern Africa’s development.

Southern Africa has been grappling lately with serious cases of money laundering involving politically exposed people and senior government officials. The case of the Al Jazeera report on the Gold Mafia is the latest instalment that has sent tongues wagging after it was revealed that millions of dollars are being siphoned out of southern African economies through money laundering, illicit financial flows and corruption.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Al Jazeera Gold Mafia exposé ‘tip of the iceberg’ for Zim corruption but accountability remains elusive

Impunity for such crimes makes it difficult for the countries in southern Africa to carry out any meaningful development agendas. The development support that comes from Western and sometimes Eastern countries pales into insignificance when compared to the money that is being lost through corruption, money laundering and illicit financial flows, raising questions about the priorities of African countries and the so-called donor world. 

The obvious question should be whether we need donor funding or simply need to strengthen the rule of law and accountability in our jurisdictions.

Civil society seems to be ill-equipped to deal with accountability for economic crimes, disproportionately focusing on the legal protection of civil and political rights. This may be explained by the fact that civil society is predominantly dependent on Western sources of funding, which is usually reflected in calls for proposals representing Western priorities in the region. 

As a result, civil society needs to review its work and think hard about how to tackle the phenomenon of corruption, money laundering and illicit financial flows that have paralysed southern Africa’s development. Corruption, money laundering and illicit financial flows have weakened systems of government and governance in southern Africa and created conditions for serial instability, insecurity and violations of human rights. 

It is in this context that we at Tsunga Law International are pleased with the South African Constitutional Court decision in the matter between the Republic of Mozambique and Forum De Monitoria Do Orcamento, Manuel Chang and others handed down on 24 May. 

The Constitutional Court dismissed the application for leave to appeal against a decision of the South African courts ordering South Africa to extradite the former minister of finance of Mozambique Manuel Chang for trial on corruption-related charges to the US. Mozambique had filed a competing request that Chang be extradited to Mozambique as opposed to the US. 

This request had created a false perception in some minds that the South African courts were being asked to decide whether the US legal system was better than the Mozambican legal system. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Mozambique had not carried out or shown any intention to prosecute Chang after the siphoning of $2-billion from the Mozambican public coffers. It was only after a warrant of arrest was issued against Chang by the US authorities that Mozambique authorities then expressed interest in investigating the case of grand theft in Mozambique with Chang as a chief suspect. 

This belated effort raised suspicion that the process of extradition to Mozambique was to try to create conditions for guaranteeing immunity to Chang for the grand corruption he allegedly committed in Mozambique. 

In short, the real question was in which jurisdiction was Chang more likely to get a genuine trial meeting fair trial standards and the requirements of full accountability in the use of public resources — the Mozambican legal system or the US legal system. 

Mozambican civil society felt, correctly in my view, that if Chang were to be extradited to Mozambique, he would not go through a genuine trial and the process would be manipulated to grant him immunity for serious economic crime. If Chang were to be extradited to the US, then he would face a genuine trial as he had limited capacity to influence proceedings as he would have in Mozambique. It came down to trusting the process. 

It is for this reason that the Mozambican civil society insisted that Chang be extradited to the US. It is their quest for accountability and justice for economic crimes that led them to take this position.

Read more in Daily Maverick: The Case of Mozambique’s Manuel Chang: Civil society holds the corrupt to account

This case also gives civil society a lesson on how to use public interest litigation to pursue justice and accountability for economic crimes in our region, where corruption, money laundering and illicit financial flows are on the increase. Of concern is that this is profitable for perpetrators as there is a climate of impunity and the legal systems in southern Africa have not fully developed to tackle this phenomenon effectively. DM/MC

Arnold Tsunga is a human rights lawyer from Zimbabwe and the principal managing partner of Tsunga Law International.

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