Mozambique’s former finance minister Manuel Chang appears in court during an extradition hearing in Johannesburg on January 8 2019. Picture: REUTERS/SHAFIEK TASSIEM
Mozambique’s former finance minister Manuel Chang appears in court during an extradition hearing in Johannesburg on January 8 2019. Picture: REUTERS/SHAFIEK TASSIEM

The US has welcomed a court ruling setting aside a decision to extradite former Mozambican finance minister Manuel Chang to his home country to stand trial for alleged fraud amounting to R30bn. 

On Sunday US embassy spokesperson Robert Mearkle said they appreciated the “well-reasoned decision” of the high court.

“The US would like to thank the SA ministry of justice for its diligent work in pursuing this case and stands prepared to offer more information to the Republic of SA as necessary to move forward,” said Mearkle.

The US hoped the outcome would be beneficial to all parties in the long term, he said, adding: “The US also thanks its partners in the fight against corruption and impunity.”

Chang is accused of taking part in schemes involving loans amounting to $2bn from banks, companies and investors based in the US, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Britain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The loans, to companies controlled by the Mozambican government, were meant to fund maritime projects in the impoverished country, ranked number six in Global Finance magazine’s 2019 report on the poorest countries in the world. 

However, the funds were allegedly diverted to government officials “in the form of kickbacks and bribes”, according to court papers. They state that the alleged corruption has had a negative impact on Mozambique and its people and that there had been a “sharp reduction in essential donor funding in the wake of the scandal”.

SA enjoys similar extradition treaties with both the US and Mozambique, which allow for the surrender and extradition of people accused of crimes between their member states.

At the request of the US government, Chang was arrested at OR Tambo International Airport when he was about to fly to Dubai in December 2018. On January 29 2019 the US government submitted a request to SA for Chang’s extradition to the US. This was followed by a similar request from the Mozambican government on February 1.

Chang, a MP at the time of his arrest, wants to be extradited to Mozambique. On May 21 former justice minister Michael Masutha took a decision to extradite him to Mozambique, noting that he was “satisfied the interest of justice will be best served by acceding to the Mozambican request for extradition”.

However, current justice & correctional services minister Ronald Lamola and Mozambican NGO the Forum de Monitoria do Orcamento took Masutha’s decision on judicial review.

On Friday the court dismissed Chang’s application to be extradited to Mozambique and set aside Masutha’s decision to extradite him to his country, remitting decisions on the matter to Lamola for determination.

The court ruled that Masutha did not have the power to extradite Chang because the former finance minister enjoyed immunity in Mozambique at the time he took the decision.

In October the US government slapped the Gupta family and their business associate Salim Essa with sanctions, saying the Guptas — former president Jacob Zuma’s friends — leveraged their “political connections to engage in widespread corruption and bribery, and capture government contracts, and misappropriate state assets”.

Neither Lamola nor his spokesperson, Chrispin Phiri, could be reached for comment. When contacted on his cellphone for comment, Masutha said: “No, it’s a wrong number.”

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za