JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa’s new justice minister will apply to have his predecessor’s decision to extradite former Mozambican finance minister Manuel Chang to his home country set aside, according to a document seen by Reuters.
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.
South Africa’s former justice minister, Michael Masutha, ruled in May to send Chang back to Mozambique to be held accountable for his alleged offences, a decision that displeased the United States and campaigners who subsequently challenged it in court.
The document - an affidavit served on behalf of the new justice minister, Ronald Lamola, that has not yet been filed in court - said Lamola did not oppose the campaigners’ application and intended to apply to set aside Masutha’s decision for review.
The document said this was on the basis that “the decision is irrational, and inconsistent with the constitution” as well as domestic, regional and international treaties to which the government is bound.
Reasons included a concern that Chang’s political immunity in Mozambique had not yet been revoked, and that information at the time of the previous minister’s decision indicated Chang had not been formally indicted in Mozambique, the document said. It added that the new minister wanted an opportunity to consider whether Chang could be extradited to the United States.
Chang’s lawyer did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
His legal team had previously pushed for him to be sent to his home country, which sought Chang’s extradition only after his arrest in South Africa.
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.
Analysts say a U.S. prosecution of the former minister could 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.
While the United States did not appeal against the previous justice minister’s decision, it has expressed its disappointment and continued to press for the extradition of Chang to the United States via diplomatic channels.
Mozambique’s acknowledgement in 2016 of the undisclosed borrowing prompted the International Monetary Fund and foreign donors to cut off support, triggering a currency collapse and a debt crisis that Mozambique is still struggling to recover from.
Reporting by Emma Rumney; Editing by Daniel Wallis