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Mozambique’s former finance minister, Manuel Change, detained under South African police custody since 29 December, has now revealed his defence strategy – which is to deny all the crimes he is accused of.
Chang was arrested under an international warrant issued by the US justice authorities, who hope to put him on trial on charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering, wire fraud and security fraud.
The charges arise out of the gigantic scandal whereby, based on government guarantees signed by Chang in 2013 and 2014, three fraudulent, security related companies, Ematum (Mozambican Tuna Company), Proindicus and MAM (Mozambique Asset Management), obtained loans of more than two billion US dollars from the banks Credit Suisse and VTB of Russia. Since the companies are not, and never were, viable, the Mozambican state is liable to repay the full amount.
The US investigations showed that at least 200 million dollars of the loan money was spent on bribes and kickbacks. The US claims jurisdiction because American banks were used in the money laundering scheme, and some of the debt was sold on to American investors.
The Mozambican Attorney-General’s Office (PGR) also wants to put Chang on trial on charges arising from the Ematum, Proindicus and MAM loans – but in Maputo, not in New York.
In a document submitted by Chang’s lawyers to the new South African Justice Minister, Ronald Lamola, dated 25 June, and which has been seen by the independent weekly “Savana”, the former minister denies all claims of wrongdoing – although anyone with a pocket calculator can work out that the guarantees signed by Chang in 2013 and 2014 smashed through the ceiling on loan guarantees set by the budget laws of those years.
Chang made the unlikely claim that he only became aware that there was a case against him in a New York court on 19 December last year. He said he was unaware of the nature and scope of the US indictment (although it is readily available on the Internet).
“I intend to deny any and all allegations of misconduct raised against me by the US judicial authorities”, he said.
Likewise, he would deny the charges made against him in Mozambique. “I deny that I received any money in the performance of my duties and functions as Minister of Finance”, Chang declared.
He demanded that he be extradited, not to the US, but to Mozambique, and complained at the delay in handing him over to the Mozambican authorities. He said the delay was a violation of his constitutional right to be informed why he was still behind bars.
“The delay of the Minister in ensuring my delivery (to Mozambique) is inexplicable, unjustified and illegal”, claimed Chang. He accused the South African Justice Ministry of “complete abdication from its constitutional responsibilities, a failure to defend the constitutional principles of a responsible and transparent government”.
In fact, Lamola is reviewing the decision taken by his predecessor, Michael Masupha, to extradite Chang to Mozambique. An affidavit from the director-general of justice, Vusi Madonsela, acting on behalf of the Minister, argued that Masupha’s decision was “irrational, and inconsistent with the constitution” as well as with domestic, regional and international treaties which bind the South African government.
Lamola’s reasons included a concern that Chang’s immunity in Mozambique, as a member of the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, has not yet been lifted. Furthermore there was no sign that Chang has yet been formally charged with any crime in Mozambique. The document from the PGR requesting his extradition did not include any charge sheet. So Lamola wanted to review the case and see whether it would be more appropriate to extradite Chang to the United States.
The question of Chang’s immunity was raised at the resumption on Monday of the current sitting of the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic. Last month, the chairperson of the Assembly, Veronica Macamo, had claimed that the Assembly’s governing board, its Standing Commission had “relaxed” Chang’s immunity. Antonio Muchanga, a deputy for the main opposition party, Renamo, asked what she meant by this term.
Muchanga said he had looked through all the relevant Mozambican legislation, and could not find any reference to a “half immunity”. Article 17 of the law on the Statute of Deputies, he reminded Macamo, states that the raising of the immunity of a deputy is preceded by a debate in the Assembly plenary, and does not mention any “relaxation” of immunity.
“A deputy either has or does not have immunity”, declared Muchanga. There was no half way house.
At this point Macamo frankly admitted “We failed” – but claimed that the fault lay, not with herself as the chairperson, but with her parliamentary group, that of the ruling Frelimo Party.
Nonetheless, she still insisted that the decision taken was a “reduction” in Chang’s immunity, and if there were “problems in interpretation”, it was the Constitutional Council, the country’s highest body in matters of constitutional law, that should solve them.
Since the concept of a “relaxed” or “reduced” immunity does not exist in Mozambican law, the only conclusion to draw is that Chang’s parliamentary immunity remains intact, and that if he sets foot on Mozambican soil, he will be a free man – at least until the new parliament, resulting from the October general elections takes office, which is unlikely to be before January 2020.
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