Mozambique’s former finance minister extradited to US to stand trial over $2 billion scandal

by MMC
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JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A former Mozambique finance minister, held in prison in South Africa for nearly five years, was extradited Wednesday to the United States to face trial on fraud and corruption charges in connection with ‘a $2 billion scandal involving fraudulent government loans.

South African authorities said Manuel Chang, who served as Mozambique’s finance minister from 2005 to 2015, was handed over to US authorities after his latest legal attempt to avoid extradition failed in May.

Chang is expected to be arraigned Thursday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.

Chang’s lawyer, Adam Ford, said his client was “relieved to have finally arrived in America where he can face the baseless accusations against him.”

“He looks forward to his trial and hopes to be fully vindicated,” Ford said in an email.

It ends a nearly five-year legal battle by Chang to avoid being tried in the United States and extradited to his home country, where rights groups have protested that he would probably be treated leniently.

He is accused of receiving bribes of up to $17 million in a scheme to secure loans to Mozambican state-owned companies from foreign banks and financiers for maritime projects. The money was looted through bribes and other corrupt schemes, according to U.S. prosecutors.

Chang was indicted in federal court in New York for his involvement in the scheme, which U.S. authorities say defrauded U.S. and international investors. He has not commented on the accusations against him.

The loans totaling $2 billion were intended to purchase fishing boats, naval patrol boats and other resources to help Mozambique’s fishing industry, but it appears this never happened.

“The Department of Justice and Correctional Services confirms that law enforcement agencies of the Republic of South Africa successfully surrendered Mr. Manuel Chang to the United States of America on July 12, 2023,” the statement said. ministry.

The scandal caused a financial crisis in Mozambique when the International Monetary Fund withdrew support for the country after so-called “hidden debts” were revealed in 2016.

Chang was arrested at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg in 2018 on a US arrest warrant.

Attempts by the Mozambican government to have him tried in Mozambique were rejected by several South African courts.

In a letter a month ago to U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis, Ford asked to dismiss the case, saying Chang’s right to a speedy trial had been violated.

The lawyer noted that in 2019, a U.S. jury acquitted a co-defendant, Jean Boustini, a Lebanese national who worked for a Middle Eastern shipbuilding company, accused by U.S. authorities of helping in a money laundering involving more than $2 billion. is part of a scheme to defraud American investors and others.

“Mr. Chang is confident that if he were ever tried in the United States, a jury would reach a similar result,” Ford said in the letter.

In 2021, Swiss bank Credit Suisse agreed to pay at least $475 million to British and American authorities to settle allegations of bribery and kickbacks stemming from their involvement in the corrupt loans.

At least 10 people have already been convicted and sentenced to prison by a Mozambican court following the scandal, including Ndambi Guebuza, the son of former Mozambican President Armando Guebuza. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison for receiving up to $33 million through the corrupt deal.

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Associated Press writer Bobby Caina Calvan in New York contributed.

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News from Associated Press Africa: https://apnews.com/hub/africa

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