The biggest corruption trial in Mozambique’s history is under way at a maximum security prison, at the same time as the credibility of the country’s judicial system is on trial in neighbouring South Africa.
The scandal involves more than $2.7bn (£2bn) of undisclosed state debts – money which the government borrowed to set up a sophisticated tuna industry – to buy trawlers and military patrol boats, but much of it was allegedly diverted to corrupt officials.
Manuel Chang, the former finance minister who signed off on the loans about eight years ago, has been in detention in South Africa since December 2018.
The 66-year-old politician and economist, who denies accepting $7m in bribes, was arrested at the request of the US, where investors were affected by the scandal.
But he has been in limbo in South Africa for years as Mozambique filed a competing request for his extradition.
His fate seemed decided in August when South Africa’s justice minister resolved that Chang should be sent to Mozambique to face justice.
However, the decision was greeted by howls of protest from civil society groups in Mozambique and South Africa – they question whether Mozambique had the political will or capacity for a proper prosecution.
Mozambique’s Fórum de Monitoria do Orçamento (FMO), a non-governmental organisation (NGO) which monitors government finances, is trying to stop the extradition – and the High Court in Johannesburg is expected to give its decision on its application soon.
FMO lawyers argued in court that there was no guarantee that Chang could be tried in Mozambique as the government had, they said, given contradictory information about whether the parliamentary immunity he previously enjoyed still protected him.
“Chang might no longer be immune from prosecution for future conduct; but Mr Chang could still be immune from prosecution for past conduct committed during his tenancy as MP,” lawyer Max du Plessis said.
“Mozambique protects its citizens from extradition. So, if Chang were to flee to Mozambique, there would be no chance of the US ever prosecuting him,” he added.
For FMO chair Adriano Nuvunga, the scandal reveals “much about how Mozambique’s wealth is being diverted from improving the livelihoods of the people to enrich… the elites”.— BBC