A South African court ruled that a Mozambican ex-finance minister held since December on a US arrest warrant can be extradited to either the United States or his home country.
Manuel Chang, 63, was arrested at Johannesburg’s main airport on December 29 over alleged involvement in fraudulent loans to Mozambican state firms worth $2 billion.
Magistrate William Schutte ruled that “there is evidence that Manuel Chang has committed the crimes he is charged with and that all conditions are met so he can be tried in the United States”.
In the US, Chang faces charges of conspiracy to commit electronic fraud, financial security violations and money laundering and could be jailed for up to 45 years if he is found guilty.
Schutte also ruled that Chang could be sent back to his native country where he faces charges of abuse of position and function, violation of budget law, fraud, embezzlement, receiving bribes, money laundering and criminal association.
Mozambique accuses him of receiving $17 million in kickbacks.
With both the US and Mozambique seeking Chang’s extradition in connection with a scandal that has shaken the poor southern African country, the court said only the justice ministry could decide where to surrender him.
Chang has 15 days to appeal the decisions but ultimately the South African government is likely to decide where he goes.
“You’ll remain in prison waiting for the decision of the minister of justice on your extradition. And you have 15 days to appeal against the decisions taken here today,” magistrate Schutte told Chang.
US Assistant Secretary of State Tibor Nagy last month said he expected Pretoria to honour the extradition accord it signed in September 1999.
“We have an extradition treaty with South Africa, we are very much expecting that the extradition will happen,” Nagy told journalists during a phone briefing.
But South African Foreign Minister Lindiwe Sisulu indicated in February that Chang would be handed to Maputo because it would be “the easiest thing for everybody”.
The charges against Chang relate to loans taken out by the government in Maputo when he was head of treasury between 2005 and 2015.
The money was allegedly used to secretly buy a tuna-fishing fleet and surveillance ships.
The former minister had enjoyed automatic immunity as a lawmaker but was stripped of the privilege as details of the scandal emerged.
Mozambique has also arrested several other suspects linked to the scandal, including the son of ex-president Armando Guebuza, and senior intelligence officials.
Seven suspects including Mozambicans and ex-Credit Suisse bankers are accused by the US of fraud, conspiracy to commit financial security fraud, and conspiracy to launder money.
In January, three former Credit Suisse workers were arrested in London and charged with helping to create $2 billion in maritime projects as a front.