Caption: Mozambique's former finance minister Manuel Chang appears in court during an extradition hearing in Johannesburg, South Africa, January 8, 2019. Picture: REUTERS/SHAFIEK TASSIEM
Caption: Mozambique's former finance minister Manuel Chang appears in court during an extradition hearing in Johannesburg, South Africa, January 8, 2019. Picture: REUTERS/SHAFIEK TASSIEM

The Kempton Park Magistrate's Court has ruled that Mozambique's former finance minister, Manuel Chang, can be extradited to the US, where he is wanted on charges related to a $2bn debt scandal, one of his lawyers said on Monday.

While a blow to Chang's legal team, who would prefer him to face related charges in Mozambique, the judge's ruling effectively constitutes only a recommendation to justice minister Michael Masutha, who has the final say.

Chang has been in custody in SA since December when he was arrested at the request of the US for his alleged involvement in $2bn of borrowing that US authorities say was fraudulent.

Chang signed off on the loans, which were guaranteed by the government but not disclosed, during his time as finance minister. Mozambique's subsequent acknowledgement of the undisclosed borrowing prompted donors to cut off support and triggered a currency collapse.

Stiaan Krause, one of Chang's lawyers said via WhatsApp that the court had ruled Chang was extraditable to the US. He didn't elaborate or immediately reply to subsequent messages.

Chang's lawyers had argued against him being sent to the US, where a trial would be likely lift the lid on as-yet unknown details of the debt affair with potential implications for senior members of Mozambique's ruling party ahead of elections in October.

Instead, they argued he should be extradited to neighbouring Mozambique, where he also faces charges related to his involvement with the loans.

The same court will now consider Mozambique's request for Chang's extradition, and make a similar judgement on whether Chang can be extradited there.

Masutha will then have the final say on where, if anywhere, Chang should be extradited. International relations minister Lindiwe Sisulu has previously said Chang should be handed back to Mozambique.

Reuters