South Africa confirms plans to block extradition of ex-Mozambique finance minister
Ronald Lamola. [Picture: Sowetan]
South Africa’s new Justice Minister, Ronald Lamola, is attempting to overturn the decision of his predecessor. Michael Masupha, to extradite former Mozambican finance minister Manuel Chang to Maputo.
According to a Saturday press release from the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services, Lamola announced that he has authorised the General Director of the Department of Justice, Vusi Madonsela, to present proof that would strongly argue against an urgent request from Chang to be handed over to the Mozambican authorities.
Chang has been in police custody in South Africa since 29 December. He was detained on the basis of an international arrest warrant issued by the US Justice Department, which wants him extradited to New York to face charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering, wire fraud and securities 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.
Faced with requests for extradition from both Mozambique and the United States, Masutha, on 21 May. decided that Chang should be sent back to Maputo. On 2 July, Chang’s South African lawyer, Rudi Krause, submitted a request for Chang’s immediate repatriation to Mozambique.
This was one of Masutha’s last acts before leaving office. He was a hangover from the regime of the former South African President, Jacob Zuma, and when the current president, Cyril Ramaphosa, took office he replaced Masutha with Lamola.
Lamola’s affidavit (which has not yet been filed in court) argues that his predecessor’s decision was “irrational, and inconsistent with the constitution” as well as 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 affidavit pointed out that “the South African Extradition Act requires that the person to be extradited should have been charged for the crimes he is alleged to have committed. In Chang’s case it is not the case since his immunities were not yet lifted”.
Chang’s immunity, it added, ‘appears to suggest that any extradition to Mozambique will contravene the SADC (Southern African Development Community) Protocol, the South African Constitution and the Extradition Act. As such, the previous decision may not be legally permissible,”
Lamola is also not opposing the application from Mozambican NGOs seeking a review of the court ruling that it is legally possible to extradite Chang to Mozambique. 19 Mozambican civil society organisations, operating under the umbrella of the Budget Monitoring Forum, wrote to the Gauteng Division of the High Court of South Africa. The lengthy FMO document contains a range of factual and legal arguments intended to convince the South African authorities that it makes more sense to extradite Chang to the US than to Mozambique.
Ian Levitt, the South African lawyer hired by the FMO said that Masutha’s decision should be suspended, and warned that dispatching Chang to Mozambique would be a violation of South African and international law. “The international reputation of South Africa would be severely affected”, he said, “and the rights of Mozambican society would be affected”.
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