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US May Be Denied Extradition Request for Mozambican Suspect

FILE - Former Mozambican finance minister Manuel Chang appears in court in Kempton Park, Johannesburg, South Africa, Jan. 8, 2019.

South Africa plans to hand over Mozambique's former finance minister, Manuel Chang, to his own government and not to the United States, which seeks Chang's extradition for alleged financial crimes, according to a South African official.

Chang, 63, is scheduled for an extradition hearing Tuesday in Johannesburg. He has been jailed there since he was arrested Dec. 29 while preparing to fly to Dubai. He faces competing U.S. and Mozambican extradition requests for his alleged role in a $2 billion secret loan scandal that nearly bankrupted Mozambique and ensnared at least 18 individuals on both sides of the Atlantic.

South Africa's foreign minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, told the country's Daily Maverick newspaper in an interview published Thursday that her government had agreed to extradite Chang to face charges in Mozambique.

"We're sending him to Mozambique to be tried. … And we believe that is the easiest thing for everybody," she said.

FILE - South African Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Lindiwe Sisulu, listens during bilateral talks with Britain in central London, April 17, 2018.
FILE - South African Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Lindiwe Sisulu, listens during bilateral talks with Britain in central London, April 17, 2018.

A U.S. grand jury indictment filed Dec. 19 accuses Chang and six others of money laundering, fraud and bribery. It says they created false maritime projects, including a tuna fishing fleet and surveillance ships to patrol the southern African country's long coastline. It says they sold the Mozambican loans to American investors and used U.S. banking institutions to transfer funds.

Mozambique's government has accused Chang of personally embezzling at least $12 million while he was finance minister, from 2005 to 2015. The $2 billion in secret loans came to light in a 2016 audit.

Chang denies any impropriety.

Push for U.S.

Some inside Mozambique say the case should be tried in the United States, contending it will be prosecuted more aggressively.

Jose Manteigas, spokesman for opposition Renamo party, says that if Chang is extradited to Mozambique "nothing will happen."

"The only interest of the authorities," he added, "is to protect Frelimo," the ruling party, ahead of presidential, legislative and provincial elections in October.

The Budget Monitoring Group, a coalition of Mozambican civil society groups, said in a statement that it "believes that the U.S.-initiated process is an opportunity for Mozambicans to get full disclosure on the illegal debts and recover all costs incurred … as a result of illegal and immoral conduct by international bankers, contractors, public officials, their relatives and collaborators in Mozambique."

It added that the group believes such prosecution "will serve as a deterrent for corrupt activities in Mozambique and beyond."

"No one trusts Mozambique's justice institutions," said Jorge Matine, a spokesman for the coalition.

Another arrest

The fraud case has created additional ripples. Earlier this week, authorities arrested Ndambi Guebuza, the son of former president Armando Guebuza, in connection with the case.

Chang remains in custody after South African Magistrate Sagra Subroven ruled last week against allowing him to go free on bail, saying, "It would not be in the interest of justice."

Mark LaMet of VOA's investigative unit contributed to this report.