Mozambique drops court appeals to extradite ex-minister from South Africa

MAPUTO, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Mozambique on Monday withdrew appeals against a South African court decision not to extradite its former finance minister, Manuel Chang, wanted in relation to a $2 billion debt scandal that plunged his country’s economy into crisis.

Chang, who denies wrongdoing, was arrested in South Africa in December at the request of the United States while Mozambique also requested his extradition, sparking a legal battle over where he should be sent.

The Mozambique Attorney General’s Office said in a statement that it would withdrew its appeals at both South Africa’s Constitutional Court and Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) to allow South African Justice Minister Ronald Lamola, who now has the final call, time to re-examine the case.

The Constitutional Court is the highest court in the country, dealing exclusively with constitutional matters, while the SCA is the highest court when it comes to other cases.

Last year, South Africa’s then justice minister, Michael Masutha, said Chang should be surrendered to Mozambique. But a South African High Court ruled in November that the decision should be set aside and reviewed by the minister’s successor, Lamola.

The U.S. charges relate to loans obtained from Credit Suisse and Russia’s VTB bank, guaranteed by the Mozambican government but in some cases not disclosed, that Chang signed off on during his 2005-2015 term as finance minister.

Their disclosure in 2016 prompted foreign donors including the International Monetary Fund to cut off support for Mozambique, triggering a currency collapse and debt default.

Mozambique has not yet formally charged Chang with a crime, prompting civil society organisations to argue that he should be sent to the United States. (Reporting by Manuel Mucari Writing by Tanisha Heiberg Editing by Giles Elgood)