Manuel Chang. Picture: Reuters.
Johannesburg - The courtroom battle between South Africa and Mozambique over which country a fraud-accused former finance minister of the latter country should be extradited to is far from over.

Mozambique has filed appeal papers that gave the strongest indication yet that it was prepared to go to the Constitutional Court to settle the matter.

A full bench of the South Gauteng High Court in Joburg last month delivered a judgment that empowered Justice Minister Ronald Lamola to cancel his predecessor’s decision to hand over Manuel Chang, the former minister, to Mozambique.

Lamola won the power to decide afresh whether to extradite Chang to Mozambique or the US for prosecution.

Lamola argued that his predecessor, Michael Masutha, acted illegally and irrationally. Ruling in Lamola’s favour, the full bench comprising Judges Colin Lamont, Denise Fisher and Edwin Molahlehi concluded: “The US has indicated that it is ready to prosecute Chang. Mozambique concedes that it is still not ready to prosecute.”

Both Mozambique and the US are seeking to prosecute Chang over an alleged R30billion fraud. The money was issued in loans for maritime projects in Mozambique.

Mozambique said it wanted to bring Chang to book because it suffered dearly because of the fraud, while the US wanted to prosecute him on grounds that most of the defrauded investors were its citizens.

Chang has been jailed at Modderbee prison since his arrest at the OR Tambo International Airport on December 29 last year. He was arrested after the US intercepted his plans to fly to Dubai for a few days.

In its papers applying for leave to appeal, Mozambique came out guns blazing against the judgment of the Bench.

It challenged a litany of findings that it believed the bench had made erroneously.

To begin with, it was further from the truth that Mozambique admitted to not being ready and able to prosecute Chang, said the papers.

Mozambique sought to dispel what it said was a narrative that Chang enjoyed immunity from prosecution in his country.

The Bench said Masutha’s decision was irrational because Chang was immune from prosecution in Mozambique by virtue of being MP.

This was another erroneous conclusion by the court, said Maputo.

The Bench failed to interpret Mozambique’s law applied before an MP could be arrested and prosecuted, the papers said.

It was not correct that Mozambique MPs enjoyed absolute immunity, but parliament had to give consent before an arrest and prosecution.

“The court erred in finding that Article 13 (1) of the Mozambican law provides for immunity from prosecution. The article states that where a member of parliament is caught in the act or where national parliament grants consent, the person will no longer be immune from prosecution,” said Mozambique.

“This immunity is enjoyed as long as national parliament has not granted its consent.

“The court erred in finding that there was no consent to arrest Chang. The extradition request (by Mozambique) was based on the consent that the national parliament granted.

“That there has been consent to arrest, detain and prosecute has not been disputed by any of the parties.”

Lamola indicated he would abide by a ruling on whether to grant Mozambique leave to appeal. He could oppose appeal once leave was granted.

His spokesperson Crispin Phiri confirmed that the appeal move was the reason why a decision on extradition was yet to be announced.

“We received the papers seeking leave to appeal two weeks ago,” Phiri said.

The matter will be heard next week.

The Star