JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – South Africa’s new Justice Minister plans to apply to overturn his predecessor’s decision to send an arrested former Mozambican finance minister back home, according to documents seen yesterday.
Manuel Chang has been held in South Africa since December last year at the request of United States (US) authorities over alleged involvement in USD2 billion of fraudulent loans to Mozambique state firms.
In May, South Africa said it would send Chang back to Mozambique, which had requested his extradition, rather than agree to a competing US extradition claim.
But Ronald Lamola, who was appointed justice minister in May, moved to reverse the decision, which he described in court papers as “irrational, and inconsistent with the constitution”.
Lamola added that sending Chang back to Mozambique was also against “domestic, regional and international treaties” signed by South Africa.
The charges against Chang relate to loans taken out by the Mozambique government when he was head of the treasury between 2005 and 2015.
When the hidden debt was revealed, Mozambique – which relies on donor aid and is one of the world’s poorest countries – was plunged into the worst financial crisis in its history.
The US in May expressed its anger over South Africa’s decision to extradite Chang to Mozambique.
Mozambique has accused Chang of taking kickbacks in a scam which creamed off hundreds of millions of dollars, but critics said he would never face justice in the country.
Court papers said South Africa had assumed that Chang’s immunity status in Mozambique had been dropped but that “that assumption was mistaken”.
Mozambique has arrested several other suspects linked to the scandal, including the son of ex-president Armando Guebuza, and senior intelligence officials.
The US said the loan scheme defrauded US investors. Chang has denied any wrongdoing.