Pretoria - The United States of America on Wednesday expressed disappointment with Pretoria's decision to send home former Mozambique finance minister Manuel Chang, who has been held since December on a US arrest warrant, to face corruption charges in Maputo.
"The US Embassy in Pretoria notes with great disappointment the media statement issued by the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services [Michael Masutha] indicating that the Republic of South Africa, despite having received our formal extradition request before that of the Republic of Mozambique, has decided to extradite former Mozambican minister of finance Manuel Chang to Mozambique," said US Embassy's spokesperson Robert Mearkle.
"We urge the government of South Africa to send Mr Chang to the United States to stand trial for these alleged crimes, which victimised US citizens and robbed the government of Mozambique of over $700 million.
"Mearkle said Chang is accused of carrying out a $2 billion (nearly R28 billion) fraud in a money laundering scheme "that took advantage of the US financial system and defrauded US investors".
"It is because of Chang’s alleged involvement in these financial crimes that the United States sought Mr Chang’s arrest and extradition," he said.
Chang, 63, was arrested in South Africa in December last year, on the strength of an Interpol Red Notice issued by United States authorities seeking Chang’s extradition.
He was finance minister between 2005 and 2015, under the presidency of Armando Guebuza.
During his tenure in Maputo, Chang oversaw the signing of several secret loans valued at US$2-billion to fund a coastal protection plan finalised between 2013/14 with the creation of three companies called Empresa Moçambicana de Atum (Ematum), Proindicus and Mozambique Asset Management (MAM).
The procurement of the loans, effectively driven by the country’s security services, bypassed all regulatory oversight.
The debt was kept secret by Guebuza’s successor, Filipe Nyusi, who had also served as minister of defence in Guebuza’s cabinet until 2016.
The hidden debt plunged impoverished Mozambique into crisis, with debt rising to 112 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by the end of 2017.
This hidden debt led the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to suspend lending to Mozambique and all 14 donors and funding agencies that used to provide direct support to the Mozambican state budget, and the IMF also suspended all disbursement.
On Tuesday, Masutha announced that South Africa was extraditing Chang to Mozambique to face the corruption charges.
"I have noted that the request by the USA was submitted a few weeks prior to that of the Republic of Mozambique," said Masutha.
"However, having considered the matter in its full context, taking into account the criteria contained in both the US-SA Extradition Treaty on the one hand and the South African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Extradition on the other, as well as the relevant facts, I am satisfied that the interest of justice will be best served by acceding to the request by the Republic of Mozambique."
In the US, Chang faces charges of conspiracy to commit electronic fraud, financial security violations and money laundering.