July 13, 2019 / 1:52 PM / 6 days ago

South Africa confirms plans to block extradition of ex-Mozambique finance minister

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa’s new justice minister confirmed on Saturday he would he ask the courts to reverse his predecessor’s decision to have former Mozambican finance minister Manuel Chang extradited to his home country.

Chang has been in custody in South Africa since December, when he was arrested at the request of the United States for his alleged involvement in $2 billion of borrowing that U.S. authorities say was fraudulent.

He denies wrongdoing and sought the return to Mozambique, where he has also been charged, in preference to being extradited to the United States.

On Friday Reuters, citing a document outlining the legal plans, reported that justice minister Ronald Lamola planned to file an application to reverse a May decision by former justice minister Michael Masutha to send Chang back to Mozambique.

Lamola said on Saturday the planned extradition home would contravene regional protocols as well as the South African Constitution, and he was concerned Chang’s political immunity in Mozambique had not yet been revoked.

“The South African Extradition Act also requires that the person to be extradited should have been charged for the crimes he is alleged to have committed,” the minister said in a statement.

“In Mr Chang’s case it is not the case since his immunities were not yet lifted. It is for the above reasons that the Minister authorized the Director-General to oppose Mr Chang’s application.”

The decision to have Chang extradited to Mozambique had displeased the United States and campaigners who challenged it in court.

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

Chang’s lawyers have argued against him being sent to the United States, where a trial would likely 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.

Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana; Editing by David Holmes

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