Mozambique’s former finance minister Manuel Chang appears in court during an extradition hearing in Johannesburg.
Maputo — Mozambique’s Attorney-General, Beatriz Buchili, on Thursday strongly defended the decision by her office to seek the extradition of former Finance Minister Manuel Chang from South Africa.
Chang was detained at Johannesburg International Airport on 29 December as he was attempting to travel to Dubai. He was picked up on the basis of an international arrest warrant issued by the US authorities. Using the extradition treaty between South Africa and the US, the American justice department wants Chang to stand trial in New York on charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering, wire fraud and securities fraud.
The charges arise from Chang’s role in the scandal of Mozambique’s “hidden debts” – the corrupt scheme whereby three fraudulent, security-related companies, Proindicus, Ematum (Mozambique Tuna Company) and MAM (Mozambique Asset Management) in 2013 and 2014 borrowed over two billion dollars from the banks Credit Suisse and VTB of Russia.
The loans were only possible because Chang signed illicit loan guarantees, under which the Mozambican government took full responsibility for repaying the money in the event that the three companies defaulted.
The US claimed jurisdiction because US banks were used to launder the money that went into paying bribes and kickbacks, and US investors purchased part of the Proindicus and Ematum debt.
The Mozambican Attorney-General’s Office (PGR) requested Chang’s extradition to Mozambique – but only several weeks after the US request. The Kempton Park Magistrates’ Court in Johannesburg ruled that both extradition requests are valid under South African law, and it is now up to the South African Justice Minister to decide which request will be granted.
Speaking on the second day of a debate in the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on her annual report on the state of justice in the country, Buchili repeated her complaint that the Americans had never replied to the PGR’s request for information, and alleged that the American indictment of Chang is partly based on the 2017 audit of Proindicus, Ematum and MAM ordered by the PGR.
This is a farfetched claim since the American indictment also covers people who are not so much as mentioned by Kroll, such as Jean Boustani, an executive of the Abu Dhabi based company Privinvest, who played a key role in fixing the illicit loans and channelling bribes to his co-conspirators. Furthermore, much of the US indictment depends on emails exchanged between the conspirators, which were not available to the Kroll auditors.
Indeed, the US prosecutors say that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has over a million pages of transcripts of phone calls and emails, bank transfers and other financial documents that will be used in evidence against Chang, Boustani and the other suspects. This material is not in the Kroll report.
Buchili claimed that putting Chang on trial in the US “does not serve the interests of Mozambican justice. Those affected were the Mozambican state and citizens. Mozambican interests will not be served by the legal system of another state. The crimes were committed in Mozambique”.
She stressed that this was not the first time Mozambique has used an international arrest warrant to extradite Mozambican citizens wanted for crimes committed in Mozambique. (She was doubtless thinking of last year’s extradition from Thailand of the notorious assassin Momad Assife Abdul Satar, after he had violated his parole conditions).
Buchili denied claims by opposition deputies that the PGR had ever claimed that the Proindicus, Ematum and MAM debts were legal. The PGR was taking civil action in a London court against Privinvest and Credit Suisse precisely “to cancel all acts that were carried out illegally”.
The main target was the guarantees for the Proindicus loan “which are not valid and should not bind Mozambique”, she said. She said the PGR is reserving its position on whether to take the same attitude towards the MAM and Ematum guarantees.