CHANG CORRUPTION CASE: Former Mozambican finance minister won’t be extradited to US, Sisulu announces

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Former Mozambican finance minister Manuel Chang will be extradited by South Africa to Mozambique and not to the US to face major corruption charges, Pretoria has revealed. The move could allow Maputo to limit the political damage in the huge corruption case Chang is involved in.

Manuel Chang is in a South African jail awaiting the decision of South African authorities on whether to send him to the US or back home to be tried on charges related to embezzling part of a US$2-billion loan to fund Mozambican government shipping projects. The scandal almost bankrupted the country three years ago. South African authorities arrested him at OR Tambo International Airport on December 29, 2018, while en route to Dubai.

He was arrested on a warrant issued by Interpol on behalf of the US government which seeks to extradite him to the US to face charges of conspiracy to commit wire and securities fraud and money laundering during his tenure as minister of finance between 2005 and 2015.

The charges relate to huge loans which international banks extended to the Mozambique government to establish a tuna fishing fleet as well as a fleet of security patrol vessels. The US indictment states that the entire project was created to enrich Chang, other Mozambican officials, an executive of a French-based shipbuilding company and Swiss bankers.

He is being charged by the US because some of the financial transactions he was implicated in were done through US banks.

Chang was denied bail in Kempton Park Magistrate’s Court last week and is expected to appear in court again on February 26 to hear if he is to be extradited to the US.

But on Tuesday International Relations and Cooperation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu told Daily Maverick in an interview that her government had instead acceded to a request from Maputo to extradite him there. Although South Africa had arrested him on Washington’s request through Interpol, Mozambique had wanted him back to face charges.

We have agreed that this will be expedited. As soon as we are done with the Interpol case we will allow Mozambique to have their former minister back.

We’re sending him to Mozambique to be tried….And we believe that is the easiest thing for everybody.”

Sisulu added that the Justice Department was now establishing if there would be a clash between the US and Mozambique, over their extradition requests.

But she was also adamant that “right now we have received a request from Mozambique and we have acceded to that”.

She suggested the US could perhaps pursue its case after Mozambique had, and possibly even in Mozambique.

However, extraditing him to Mozambique could allow Maputo to limit the fallout from the case, especially in an election year. Some analysts suspect that the big bribes, in this case, went right to the top.

Sisulu also disclosed that she had withdrawn from direct involvement in the assignment given to her by President Cyril Ramaphosa, to normalise relations with Rwanda, because the case had become so personal and “vile”.

This appeared to refer to personal insults directed at her from the Rwandan side for suggesting it would be a good idea for Paul Kagame to negotiate with dissidents based in South Africa.

Sisulu told Daily Maverick that South Africa’s intelligence and security services were now dealing with the case. Her spokesperson Ndivhuwo Mabaya said she had referred the case to the security cluster for advice and input.

On the basis of their advice, Sisulu would make a recommendation to Ramaphosa. Mabaya explained that the case had been shifted to the security officials because “the reason for the strained relations is security related”. This apparently referred to Pretoria’s suspicions that Kagame was behind the assassination or attempted assassinations of Rwandan dissidents in South Africa. Kagame, in turn, believes that the dissidents are plotting to topple him by force from bases in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mabaya added that Sisulu and the security cluster had already briefed Ramaphosa on the issue and Ramaphosa had briefed Kagame.

Sisulu also said in the interview that she had assigned her deputy Luwellyn Landers to deal with the complaints against South Africa’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko by her staff.

It was recently reported in the media that the ambassador had locked up several of her staff in a meeting room in the embassy for five hours on a Saturday because other staff members had failed to pitch up for the meeting. Staff members were also quoted as saying she was often personally abusive to them, sometimes in front of diplomats of the UN or other countries.

Sisulu also defended Pretoria’s position that Western sanctions were the root of Zimbabwe’s economic ills and so should be lifted immediately.

Critics contend that South Africa and SADC have simply bought into the ruling Zanu PF’s propaganda and that the real causes of the crisis are Harare’s mismanagement of the economy and repressive politics.

The critics point out that the sanctions are targeted only against individual members of the Zimbabwe establishment.

But Sisulu said her government had underestimated the strength of the sanctions which remained “really a heavy burden on them”. And so, for instance, Zimbabwe could not borrow money from a South African bank like ABSA because that would expose ABSA to America’s Zimbabwe sanctions.

Piers Pigou, a Zimbabwe expert at the International Crisis Group, said he did not believe it was quite true that ABSA could not lend money to Zimbabwe. But if it did, it would have to ensure that none of the money reached specific individuals or companies on America’s Zimbabwe sanctions list.

He said complying with US sanctions did have a “chilling effect” and there could be grey areas but if a bank like ABSA wished to lend money to Zimbabwe it would have to “engage the US to facilitate an appropriate navigation”.

The South African government is negotiating a financial rescue package for Zimbabwe but has not divulged details.

Sisulu also revealed that Pretoria was planning to supply Zimbabwe with non-lethal crowd control equipment to help save lives when the Zimbabwe authorities dealt with protests.

She said that because the police lacked such equipment they were passing the responsibility to the army whose only way of controlling crowds was with live ammunition.

And that hasn’t improved the image of Zimbabwe in the past two months.” Providing Zimbabwe with equipment such as teargas and water cannons “will save lives and not give the country a bad name”.

Sisulu also revealed she was addressing South Africa’s relations with Morocco which have been strained ever since South Africa recognised Western Sahara as an independent state in 2004. Morocco claims the territory as one of its provinces.

That prompted Morocco to withdraw its ambassador and later to refuse to accept a new South African ambassador. So both countries have only had acting ambassadors since then.

But Morocco is trying to restore relations to full ambassadorial level and eight months ago asked Pretoria to accept a former deputy foreign minister as ambassador to South Africa.

Pretoria has been dragging its feet, raising Moroccan concerns that it does not want to upgrade relations. However, Sisulu suggested otherwise in the interview. She said the delay in approving the new Moroccan ambassadors had only been brought to her attention on Tuesday morning and she would look into the matter.

We do have Moroccan representation in our country and they allow us to have representation there. So I think this should not be confused with any other ideological position we might hold,” she added, suggesting that South Africa’s support for Western Saharan independence was not an impediment to full relations with Morocco.

Sisulu also further explained the shift in foreign policy, towards a greater assertion of human rights, which she announced last year.

She had instructed South Africa’s ambassadors abroad that where human rights were concerned, “they will get their directives directly from Pretoria”.

This would hold even where South Africa had made agreements with other countries binding it to vote in certain ways.

The new policy was heralded by Sisulu instructing the embassy in New York to shift its vote on a UN General Assembly resolution condemning Myanmar for its abuse of the minority Rohingya people. SA first abstained from the vote in a General Assembly committee and then voted for the resolution in the full General Assembly plenary.

Sisulu explained that South Africa’s diplomats had automatically abstained from the vote in committee because of a longstanding agreement among Non-Aligned Movement countries that when any member was discussed at the UN, other members should abstain.

When she became aware of this abstention, she instructed her diplomats to support the resolution. And in future, all human rights issues would be dealt with on a case by case basis in consultation with head office.

She indicated that South Africa’s recent stance on the Ukraine-Russia conflict, when it criticised both sides equally, was one of the outcomes of this new policy. DM


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