Mozambique’s former finance minister was put on a U.S. plane Tuesday and flown from South Africa to New York, where he will face charges of fraud and money laundering.
Manuel Chang was wanted for his alleged role in a $2 billion graft scandal that plunged Mozambique into financial crisis.
He was arrested in South Africa in 2018 on a U.S. government warrant.
Years of legal wrangling over whether to send him back home or to the United States followed.
Chrispin Phiri is a spokesman for South Africa’s justice minister.
“His surrender followed a protracted legal process in the South African courts, which ranged from the magistrates’ courts right up to the Constitutional Court of South Africa where ultimately the leave of appeal by the Republic of Mozambique’s government was denied. Mr. Chang will now stand trial in the United States of America on a number of charges,” he said.
Chang is accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes to secure unconstitutional loans from international banks for state-owned companies.
The loans were for maritime projects, such as a tuna fishing fleet, in what became known as the “hidden debt” or “tuna” scandal.
The U.S. government says American investors were among the fraud victims.
When the amount of debt was discovered in 2016, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund pulled support from Mozambique, one of the world’s poorest countries.
About half a billion dollars is still unaccounted for and alleged to have gone to kickbacks.
Chang has denied any wrongdoing.
Adriano Nuvunga is a Mozambican activist and chair of Fórum de Monitoria do Orçamento, a civil society group.
His group filed the court challenges that led to Chang being sent to the U.S. instead of back to Mozambique.
“We celebrate Mr. Chang’s extradition to the United States. We celebrate mainly because his extradition has a strong political significance for the people of Mozambique. It means the triumph of justice over impunity,” said Nuvunga.
Ahead of the extradition, Mozambique’s government restated it wanted Chang tried at home.
A Maputo court last year sentenced the son of former President Armando Guebuza and 10 others to between 10 and 12 years in prison over the scandal.
But Nuvunga believes the former finance minister, who belongs to the same political party as current President Filipe Nyusi, would have been given preferential treatment if sent to Mozambique.
“So, pushing for him to go to America it’s not because we like America, it’s because we want him to face justice, in a court where he’ll be treated like a criminal, like a normal citizen, not like a minister,” he said.
Nuvunga said he hopes that during the trial, Chang will reveal who gave him the orders to sign the unconstitutional bonds and where to find Mozambique’s missing $500 million.