The decision former Justice minister Michael Masutha took on his last day of office to extradite fraud-accused Manuel Chang, a former finance minister in Mozambique, to his home country and not the US has come under the spotlight in court.
On Wednesday, a full Bench of the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg heard opposing arguments aimed at convincing it about the validity or invalidity of Masutha’s decision.
In one corner, the Mozambique government sought to convince the court to rule that Masutha’s decision was valid and compel the administration of President Cyril Ramaphosa to implement it.
Incumbent Justice Minister Ronald Lamola stood at the opposing corner, arguing that Masutha’s decision was irrational and unlawful.
Lamola had the support of two NGOs in the legal battle playing out at the high court downtown Johannesburg.
The Helen Suzman Foundation and FMO, a Mozambican NGO, threw their weight behind Lamola in his bid to set aside Masutha’s decision.
Masutha made his decision on May 21, just a day before Ramaphosa replaced him with Lamola, his ally in the ANC.
Lamola withdrew the decision.
He informed Chang, who was waiting from a South African jail to be sent back home, that he intended to review his predecessor’s decision.
Both Chang and Mozambique believed Lamola withdrew the decision because he was biased in favour of the US.
The Mozambican parties are arguing that Lamola was evidently biased to be left to make a decision on his own.
They want the court to rule, based on the merits of the matter, which country should receive Chang.
Both the US and Mozambique wanted to prosecute Chang for his involvement in an alleged R29.5billion fraud.
William Mokhare SC, an advocate for Mozambique in the matter, told the court that Lamola moved to review Masutha’s decision without entertaining his reasons for it.
“He never bothered to enquire what informed the decision by the former minister,” said Mokhare.
“What we have is that there was no request for the (former) minister’s reasons.”
Mokhare rejected submissions by Vincent Maleka SC, Lamola’s advocate on the matter, that nothing stopped Mozambique from finding Masutha’s reasons and include them in its own records.
Mokhare said Lamola had this responsibility, as he bore the onus to prove that Masutha acted unlawfully.
Maleka maintained that Masutha’s decision was illegal and irrational.
He said the fact that Masutha took the decision on his last day in office was proof enough of his irrationality.
Chang’s counsel was expected to argue for his release from prison and extradition to Mozambique today.
He has been in a South African prison since arrest at the OR Tambo International Airport on December 29 last year.
The US obtained a warrant for his arrest two days earlier, after intercepting his travel plans.
“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.
Mokhare told the court that Mozambique agreed with Chang on his extradition call. The country disagreed that he should be freed, as it had resolved to prosecute him for the alleged fraud.
Said Mokhare: “The only prayer we oppose in Chang’s application is that he should be released.
“He must be received by authorities of the requesting country. The release would be inappropriate.”