Johannesburg - Justice Minister Ronald Lamola will face allegations in court on Wednesday and Thursday that he has shown deep-seated bias in favour of the US in its extradition stand-off with Mozambique.
The South Gauteng High Court, Johannesburg, will on Wednesday morning start hearing the application by Mozambique aimed at compelling Lamola to extradite its fraud-accused former finance minister Manuel Chang to its shores.
Lamola overturned a decision by his predecessor, Michael Masutha, to extradite Chang to Mozambique.
Masutha made the decision on his last day in office, before President Cyril Ramaphosa replaced him with the former deputy president of the ANC Youth League.
Both Mozambique and the US have made requests to South Africa for Chang’s extradition in order to prosecute him for his alleged involvement in a $2 billion (R30bn) loan fraud.
Describing Masutha’s decision as unlawful and irrational, Lamola moved to review it. Masutha applied a protocol adopted by the Southern African Development Community in 2002 in his decision.
Lamola opted to instead make his own decision on which country between the US and Mozambique Chang should be sent to for prosecution. But Mozambique has come out guns blazing, to charge that Lamola cannot be trusted to make his decision independently, saying he has shown bias towards the US.
In separate court papers, Chang also accused Lamola of being biased against his country. Chang favoured being extradited to his home country.
Chang has been in a South African prison since his arrest at the OR Tambo International Airport on December 29.
The US obtained a warrant for his arrest two days earlier, after intercepting his travel plans. He was flying SAA from Mozambique via Johannesburg.
“I was en route to the United Arab Emirates for a holiday, accompanied by my life partner. I had a return flight to Johannesburg booked for January 2, 2019,” he said in his affidavit.
He denied the fraud allegations he faces. The US wanted to prosecute Chang in its courts on the grounds that transactions were done through its banking system and some of the defrauded investors were Americans.
Beatriz Buchili, attorney-general of Mozambique, said in her country’s papers it was as clear as daylight Lamola favoured sending Chang to the US.
Mozambique wanted the decision on Chang’s destination to be made by the court, and not Lamola.
“I respectfully submit that this honourable court should not remit the decision to the minister for reconsideration, as the minister is unlikely to independently apply his mind because of the manifest bias shown in this application,” said Buchili.
Contrary to Lamola’s position, Buchili denied Mozambique had not shown seriousness to prosecute Chang.
She said her office had done extensive work to bring Chang to court. “This case is very important to Mozambique as the criminal offences have caused devastating effect to the economy of Mozambique,” said Buchili.
Mozambique took umbrage at Lamola allegedly taking an opinion piece of Dr André Thomashausen, a German attorney and professor emeritus of international law at Unisa, before deciding to review Masutha’s decision.
Thomashausen described Mozambique’s extradition request as a scam that would see the member of the ruling Frelimo party escaping prosecution.
An article published by the Mail & Guardian in 1998 identified Thomashausen as a “front man” for Renamo, which used to be a rebel movement backed by apartheid South Africa.
Thomashausen confirmed his links with Renamo, saying: “If they were terrorist, you may as well call the ANC terrorist.’’
Rejecting Thomashausen’s article, Buchili said it was “just an opinion... full of innuendos and bias”.
Vusi Madonsela, the director- general of the Justice Department, conceded that Thomashausen’s opinion was considered.
Madonsela said: “I am not suggesting at all that the opinions expressed by the learned professor are correct and should be accepted without more. The point I make at this stage is that the opinions so expressed required a proper consideration.”
Madonsela denied that Lamola was biased against Mozambique’s extradtion request. “It is denied that the minister has shown any indication of bias toward either requesting country in the present application. The minister has been clear on the reasons why he is of the view that the decision of the then minister is unlawful and falls to be reviewed.”