Manuel Chang, the former Minister of Finance of Mozambique. (YouTube screenshot)
Lawyers involved in the case suspect Pretoria could preempt the courts by putting Manuel Chang on a plane at 7 a.m. Wednesday morning.
A Mozambican anti-corruption watchdog on Wednesday asked the Johannesburg High Court to issue an urgent order preventing Justice Minister Ronald Lamola from extraditing former Mozambican finance minister Manuel Chang to Mozambique.
But lawyers involved in the case suspect a court order would come too late because they believe the South African government intends to put Chang on a plane to Maputo on Wednesday at 7 a.m. – before the court could not hear the request.
“It could turn into Bashir Two,” said a lawyer, referring to the legal drama of June 2015 when the South African government allowed then Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to flee South Africa to Africa. disregard of a High Court order compelling the government to hold him back. It was so that he could be turned over to the International Criminal Court to face genocide and other charges.
In 2015, the High Court, Supreme Court of Appeal and Constitutional Court all ruled that the government acted illegally in allowing Bashir to escape.
The lawyer said the current South African government would be just as guilty if it sent Chang back to Mozambique knowing the High Court had been asked to order him not to do so. Chang is wanted for corruption in both Mozambique and the United States, but many suspect he will not get a proper trial in Mozambique.
The lawyer said he was concerned that Lamola’s office would refuse to confirm whether Chang is still in South Africa or when he intends to send him home. In a letter on Monday to lawyers for the Mozambican watchdog, the Forum de Monitoria do Orcamento (FMO), Lamola refused the FMO’s request to reverse its decision to send Chang to Mozambique.
He said Chang had been in prison for several years, so it would be unfair to detain him any longer. In any case, said Lamola, “the matter is in the hands of Interpol”. A Justice Ministry official confirmed this to Daily Maverick, claiming that Lamola was no longer able to stop Chang’s delivery to the Mozambican authorities.
After Lamola refused to act on Monday, the FMO filed an urgent application with the Johannesburg High Court on Tuesday, seeking an emergency court order preventing Lamola from sending Chang to Mozambique. He wants Chang to stay in South Africa until the High Court has had time to properly review Lamola’s decision. The FMO said Chang should be extradited to the United States and not to Mozambique because the Mozambican authorities had not issued an arrest warrant for him.
FMO is an umbrella organization for several Mozambican NGOs. In her High Court affidavit requesting the urgent order, FMO lawyer Nicole van Deventer noted that Lamola took almost two years to decide to extradite Chang to Mozambique. “Now there is suddenly an inexplicable rush to surrender Mr. Chang,” she said.
Chang has been in a South African prison for almost 32 months. He was arrested in transit through OR Tambo International Airport on December 29, 2018 under an arrest warrant issued by the United States. The following month, the United States asked South Africa to extradite him to the United States to face charges of fraud and corruption. He alleged he received millions of dollars in bribes to approve international loans totaling around $ 2.2 billion in 2013 and 2014 for Mozambique to buy fishing trawlers and military patrol boats.
The state’s proposed tuna fishing project came to naught, but Chang and many other Mozambican officials as well as officials from one of the credit banks and the shipbuilding company that sold the boats in Mozambique have reportedly received bribes.
The United States has indicted Chang and others involved because they said American investors lost large sums of money as part of this fraudulent scheme. The United States asked the SA to extradite him in January 2019 and Mozambique followed a few days later – before charging him.
In his affidavit to the Johannesburg High Court on Tuesday, Van Deventer said if the court granted the FMO’s urgent request for an order preventing Lamola from extraditing Chang to Mozambique, then the FMO would seek a court order compelling Lamola extradite him to the United States or at least send the case back to Lamola for him to reconsider his decision.
Van Deventer questioned the sincerity of Mozambique’s stated intention to prosecute Chang. She noted that Lamola explained in a press release on Monday that he opposed his predecessor Michael Masutha’s decision to extradite Chang to Mozambique in May 2019.
This was mainly because Mozambique had not then charged Chang and he still enjoyed immunity from prosecution as a member of parliament. Since then, Mozambican authorities have lifted Chang’s immunity and charged him with several counts, Lamola said.
But Van Deventer said Mozambique still had not issued an arrest warrant for Chang and that if returned to Mozambique there would remain a risk of absconding. She added that Lamola had not provided evidence that Mozambique had actually charged him or that he had lifted his immunity from prosecution.
She added that the law required Chang to be extradited to the country that requested the extradition first – the United States – unless there were compelling reasons not to, that Lamola did not. had not provided.
She said Lamola had an obligation under South African and international law to fight corruption and that this obligation would be best served by extraditing Chang to the United States.
Meanwhile, in Maputo on Tuesday, the trial judge of 19 other officials involved in the same hidden debt scam announced that Chang would be called as a witness.
Chang was not on the original long list of witnesses. But the Mozambique Bar, which assists the prosecutor, requested in the case that Chang be called as a witness and this request was immediately accepted by the defense. DM