A South African court on Wednesday ruled that Mozambique’s former finance minister Manuel Chang should be extradited to the United States, overturning a decision by South Africa’s justice minister to send him to his home country.
Both the United States and Mozambique requested Chang’s extradition over his alleged role in a $2 billion debt scandal in Mozambique, and a debate over where he should face charges has been underway for years.
Chang, who has been detained in South Africa since 2018, denies wrongdoing.
In August and after a long delay, South Africa’s Justice Minister Ronald Lamola decided to send Chang to Mozambique, but this was challenged in court by civil society groups who argued proper justice would only be done in the United States.
On Wednesday, Judge Margaret Victor overturned Lamola’s decision, saying it was inconsistent with South Africa’s constitution and the court could not conclude it was rational.
“The decision…is substituted with the following: Mr Manuel Chang is to be surrendered and extradited to the United States of America to stand trial for his alleged offences,” she continued.
The South African Justice Ministry and Chang’s lawyer said they would comment on the decision once they had seen the written judgement.
Chang is wanted in relation to $2 billion worth of state-backed borrowing, signed off by him during his 2005-2015 tenure as finance minister, ostensibly for projects spanning tuna fishing, shipyard development and maritime security.
However, hundreds of millions of dollars went missing, including as kickbacks, authorities say, while many promised benefits never materialised.
The Mozambican government did not disclose all of the loans to parliament or donors, including the International Monetary Fund. When the full extent of the borrowing was revealed, donors cut off support to Mozambique and its currency, the metical, collapsed.