Maputo, 25 May (AIM) – South Africa’s Constitutional Court has denied the Mozambican Attorney-General’s Office (PGR) leave to appeal against the ruling by the High Court in Gauteng province that former Mozambican Finance Minister, Manuel Chang, must be extradited, not to Mozambique, but to the United States, to face trial for his role in the country’s largest financial scandal, known as the case of the “hidden debts”.
Chang has been in police custody in Johannesburg since December 2018. That was when Chang was travelling to Dubai, and attempted to change planes at Johannesburg airport, only to be arrested on the basis of a warrant issued by American prosecutors.
Belatedly, the PGR also tried to have Chang extradited to Maputo. For four years, legal battles have raged over Chang’s fate. Should he be sent to Mozambique or to the US?
On two occasions, successive South African Justice Ministers ordered the return of Chang to Maputo, and both times they were overruled by the courts.
In November 2021, the High Court in Gauteng Province overturned the decision by Justice Minister Ronald Lamola to extradite Chang to Mozambique. But before Chang could be sent for trial in the United States, the PGR appealed again. It has taken over 18 months to hear the PGR’s appeals.
In April, giving her annual report on the state of the justice system to the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, Attorney-General Beatriz Buchili insisted that Mozambique is the only country with jurisdiction over the case, and hence the only country that can put Chang on trial.
This is exactly what she said in her report the previous year, and clearly both the US and the South African judicial authorities disagree.
In 2022, the South African Higher Appeals Court refused to give the PGR leave to appeal, and decided that Chang would indeed be sent to New York. The PGR then appealed to the Constitutional Court, arguing that it was wrong for the Appeals Court to deny right to appeal.
The PGR now seems to have run out of appeal possibilities. On Tuesday, the Constitutional Court unanimously denied the PGR leave to appeal, on the grounds that such an appeal stood “no reasonable chance of success”.
In addition, the Constitutional Court ordered the PGR to pay the costs of the case.
The term “hidden debts” refers to the loans of over two billion US dollars which the banks Credit Suisse and VTB of Russia granted in 2013 and 2014 to three fraudulent, security-linked companies, Proindicus, Ematum (Mozambique Tuna Company) and MAM (Mozambique Asset Management).
The loans were only possible because the Mozambican government of the day, under the then President Armando Guebuza, issued guarantees for 100 per cent of the money. The loan guarantees were signed by Chang, as finance minister, even though they were entirely illegal, smashing through the ceiling on loans established by the Mozambican budget law.
The American prosecutors claimed jurisdiction because the scheme had abused the American financial system and defrauded American investors.
It now seems certain that Chang will be extradited to the US, though no date for the extradition has yet been fixed.