Mozambique's former finance minister Manuel Chang. Picture: REUTERS/SHAFFIEK TASSIEM
Mozambique's former finance minister Manuel Chang. Picture: REUTERS/SHAFFIEK TASSIEM

Hearing arguments started on Tuesday as to whether Mozambique’s former-finance minister, held since December on a US warrant, can be extradited and if so, to where.

Manuel Chang was arrested at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport on December 29 over alleged involvement in $2bn of fraudulent loans to Mozambican state firms.

Both the US and Mozambique have issued their own extradition requests over the allegations.

The court did not rule on Tuesday as to which request it would consider first and adjourned the case to next month.

Charges against Chang relate to loans taken by Maputo when he was head of treasury there between 2005 and 2015. The money was allegedly used to secretly buy a tuna-fishing fleet and surveillance ships. An independent audit found that a quarter of the loan amount was illicitly diverted.

The US alleges at least $200m of the loans were spent on bribes and kickbacks, including $12m that went to Chang, who allegedly signed off on debt guarantees.

Mozambique has arrested several suspects linked to the debt scandal, including the son of former-president Armando Guebuza, as well as intelligence officials.

Foreign minister Lindiwe Sisulu indicated last week that Chang will be handed over to Maputo. “We’re sending him to Mozambique to be tried,” Sisulu told the Daily Maverick. “We believe that is the easiest thing for everybody.”

Chang’s lawyer, Willie Vermeulen, told the court on Tuesday that he will not oppose extradition to Mozambique. “So it makes no sense to first discuss extradition to the US where he does not want be extradited,” he said.

It is thought to be the first time a South African court has considered two concurrent requests for extradition in the same case.