New SA justice minister aims to revoke Mozambique extradition order

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South Africa’s new justice minister will apply to have his predecessor’s decision to extradite former Mozambican finance minister Manuel Chang to his home country set aside, according to a document seen by Reuters.

Chang has been in custody in South Africa since December when he was arrested at the request of the United States for alleged involvement in $2 billion of borrowing US authorities say was fraudulent. He denies wrongdoing.

South Africa’s former justice minister, Michael Masutha, ruled in May to send Chang back to Mozambique to be held accountable for his alleged offences, a decision that displeased the United States and campaigners who subsequently challenged it in court.

The document an affidavit served on behalf of the new justice minister Ronald Lamola not yet filed in court said Lamola did not oppose the campaigners’ application and intended to apply to set aside Masutha’s decision for review.

The document said this was on the basis that “the decision is irrational and inconsistent with the constitution” as well as domestic, regional and international treaties to which government is bound.

Reasons included concern Chang’s political immunity in Mozambique had not yet been revoked and information at the time of the previous minister’s decision indicated Chang had not been formally indicted in Mozambique, the document said. It added the new minister wanted to consider whether Chang could be extradited to the United States.

Chang’s lawyer did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

His legal team previously pushed for him to be sent to his home country, which sought Chang’s extradition only after his arrest in South Africa.

The US charges relate to loans guaranteed by the Mozambican government, some it did not disclose, signed off by Chang during his 2005-2015 term as finance minister.

Analysts say a US prosecution of the former minister could lift the lid on as-yet unknown details of the debt affair with potential implications for senior members of Mozambique’s ruling party ahead of elections in October.

While the United States did not appeal the previous justice minister’s decision, it expressed disappointment and continued to press for extradition to the United States via diplomatic channels.

Mozambique’s acknowledgement in 2016 undisclosed borrowing prompted the International Monetary Fund and foreign donors to cut off support, triggering a currency collapse and a debt crisis Mozambique is still struggling to recover from.