Two arrested on human trafficking charges in Joburg; minibus taxi with Mozambican number plates
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The US government is “deeply disappointed” with the decision by the South African authorities to extradite former Mozambican Finance Minister Manuel Chang to Mozambique, according to a statement from the US Department of Justice sent to Lusa.
The decision announced on Monday by the South African justice system to Lusa news agency, that the former Mozambican finance minister, who is the target of proceedings in the United States and Mozambique over the case of hidden debts and who was detained in South Africa, will be subject to trial in his country of origin.
The US Justice Department spokeswoman Nicole Navas said that “the US government is deeply disappointed with the South African government’s decision to extradite Manuel Chang to Mozambique instead of the United States.
“Mozambique’s former finance minister is accused in the United States of defrauding US citizens of millions of dollars and causing significant harm to Mozambique and its people,” the statement from the Justice Department continues.
The US administration stresses that “justice would be best served by extraditing Mr. Chang to the United States,” but the US Justice Department promises to continue its “commitment to pursue large-scale fraud, bribery and money laundering and hold those responsible accountable.”
Manuel Chang was Mozambique’s finance minister during President Armando Guebuza’s government between February 2005 and December 2014 and gave the go-ahead for secret loans worth around two billion euros.
According to the US investigation, much of the fraud and money laundering took place through transfers processed by banking institutions in New York.
In the context of the US government indictment, submitted on 19 December 2018, US prosecutors explained the request to extradite Manuel Chang to New York by the seriousness of the criminal offence, risk of flight and “irrefutable evidence of guilt”.
Jean Boustani, a Lebanese businessman tried in the same case, was found not guilty by the US jury on December 2, 2019, because prosecutors failed to convince the jury that the case was relevant to the United States.
A spokesperson for the South African justice ministry explained that Manuel Chang, detained since 29 December 2018 in South Africa at the request of the US, will be “handed over to the Mozambican authorities to be tried under Mozambican law for abuse of position and function, violation of budget laws, fraud, embezzlement, passive corruption, money laundering and criminal association.”
The decision announced on Monday ended a multi-year stalemate, as in October 2019 South Africa’s High Court ruled previous Justice Minister Michael Masutha’s decision to extradite Manuel Chang to Mozambique invalid as he “still enjoyed immunity” in his country, referring the case back to the new Justice Minister Ronald Lamola.
The transfer of Manuel Chang from the Modderbee Correctional Centre, east of Johannesburg, to the authorities in Mozambique is being facilitated by the International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL), a spokesman for the South African Justice and Correctional Services told Lusa.
According to the US indictment, Chang guaranteed debts of over US$2.2 billion (about two billion euros) contracted in favour of public companies Ematum, Proindicus and MAM, linked to fishing and maritime security in Mozambique.
The deals caused “hidden debts” in Mozambican public accounts, which were discovered after several years and which have seriously damaged the country.
The Mozambican justice system on Monday started the trial of the main case with a total of 19 defendants, including a son of former president Guebuza.