November 6, 2019 / 10:37 AM / 12 days ago

Mozambique to appeal South African ruling to set aside extradition of ex-finance minister

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Mozambique’s government plans to appeal a South African court’s decision to revoke the planned extradition of former finance minister Manuel Chang, wanted in both his home country and the United States, a letter seen by Reuters on Wednesday showed.

FILE PHOTO: Mozambique's former finance minister Manuel Chang appears in court during an extradition hearing in Johannesburg, South Africa, January 8, 2019. REUTERS/Shafiek Tassiem/File Photo

Chang, who denies wrongdoing, was arrested in South Africa in December at the request of the United States, where he faces charges related to his alleged involvement in a $2 billion debt scandal that plunged Mozambique’s economy into crisis.

His homeland has also requested his extradition, sparking a legal battle over where Chang should be sent.

Earlier this year, South Africa’s former justice minister Michael Masutha said Chang should be surrendered to Mozambique. But a South African High Court ruled on Friday that decision should be set aside and reviewed by his successor Ronald Lamola.

The letter from Mozambique’s government lawyers, dated Nov. 5 and sent to parties in the case, said the legal team was in the process of preparing papers to request leave to appeal the High Court decision.

“We have instructions from our client to appeal the judgment ... directly to the Constitutional Court, alternatively to the SCA to appeal the judgment,” the letter said, referring to South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal.

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

Samuel Modiba, the Mozambique government’s lawyer who signed the letter, was not immediately available for comment.

Mozambique’s decision to appeal pushes even further into the future a decision on Chang’s fate, 10 months after his original detention and with the U.S. case into the scandal already underway.

The U.S. charges against Chang relate to loans obtained from Credit Suisse and Russia’s VTB bank, guaranteed by the Mozambican government but some of which were 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, which was one factor in justice minister Lamola’s application to the courts to have his predecessor’s decision set aside so that he could review it.

If sent to the United States, analysts say Chang may reveal more details of the debt scandal, with potential implications for senior members of the ruling party in Mozambique, where the political situation is fragile following a contested election.

A spokesman for South Africa’s justice ministry declined to comment on the letter from the Mozambique government’s legal team.

Reporting by Emma Rumney; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

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