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South Africa will this week hand over Mozambique’s former finance minister to the United States, where he will stand trial over the $2 billion ‘tuna bond’ scandal, reigniting one of the biggest corruption cases in Africa.
Manuel Chang lost a US extradition battle in May, nearly five years after he was arrested in Johannesburg on US fraud charges linked to the looting of hundreds of millions of dollars in loans he approved to issue in 2013.
Loans for maritime projects, which included a state tuna fishing fleet, devastated Mozambique’s economy and directly led the southern African country to default on its sovereign debt, amid allegations of corruption, concealment and embezzlement of approximately $500 million.
The fallout has led to a $475m fine for Credit Suisse, the debt arranger, and ongoing litigation in London, in which the Mozambican state has sought to write off the debts but has also declined to detail what that President Filipe Nyusi knew loans as a defense. minister at the time.
Chang’s surrender to the United States, which sets the stage for the most important foreign trial in the long saga, could embarrass Nyusi’s ruling Frelimo party, which has unsuccessfully sought to extradite him to Mozambique.
“We are extraditing him to the United States. He was arrested in South Africa and will be handed over this week,” South African police said, after the country’s top court dismissed Mozambique’s appeal against Chang’s extradition.
A Gulfstream jet registered with the US Department of Justice landed at a private airport near Johannesburg on Sunday, according to flight tracking websites.
“The fact that Chang is extradited to America sends a strong message to the elites who undermined the development of Mozambique,” said Adriano Nuvunga, president of the Fórum de Monitoria do Orçamento, a budget watchdog that fought the Mozambican attempt. to stop the extradition.
“We hope Chang will speak up, tell us who gave the orders and where the missing funds are. Nearly half a billion dollars are missing,” he added.
Chang has always denied wrongdoing and his US attorneys have said they will seek to dismiss the case in New York because the trial has taken too long.
In 2019, a previous US trial in the scandal ended with an acquittal on charges of fraud and money laundering by a seller of boats acquired through the loans. Three former Credit Suisse bankers had earlier pleaded guilty to organizing bribes over the debt issue.
After 2016, when the tuna bond collapsed, the fraud cost the country $11 billion or the equivalent of its entire gross domestic product that year, the Center for Integrity estimated. of Mozambique and the Norwegian Chr Michelsen Institute.