Fri. Jun 21st, 2024

 A former Mozambique finance minister who has been held in prison in South Africa for nearly five years was extradited Wednesday to the United States to face a fraud and corruption trial over a $2 billion scandal involving fraudulent government loans.

South African authorities said that Manuel Chang, who was Mozambique’s finance minister from 2005 to 2015, was handed over to U.S. authorities after his last-ditch court effort to avoid extradition failed in May.

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

Chang’s attorney, Adam Ford, said his client is “relieved to have finally gotten to America where he can confront the baseless charges against him.”

“He looks forward to his day in court and expects to be fully vindicated,” Ford said in an email.

It brings to an end a nearly five-year legal battle by Chang to avoid facing trial in the U.S. and be extradited instead to his home country, where rights groups have protested that he would likely be treated leniently.

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

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

The loans totaling $2 billion were intended for the purchase of fishing vessels and naval patrol boats and other resources to help Mozambique’s fishing industry, but it’s alleged that never happened.

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

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

Chang was arrested at the O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg in 2018 on a U.S. warrant.

The Mozambican government’s own attempts to have him face trial in Mozambique have been dismissed by several South African courts.

In a letter a month ago to U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis, Ford sought to have the case dismissed, asserting that Chang’s right to a speedy trial had been violated.

The attorney noted that a U.S. jury in 2019 acquitted a co-defendant, Jean Boustini, a Lebanese national who worked for a Middle Eastern shipbuilding company and was accused by American authorities of helping in a money laundering scheme that involved more than $2 billion as part of a scheme to defraud U.S. 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 bribery and kickback allegations stemming from their involvement with the corrupt loans.

At least 10 people have already been convicted and sentenced to prison by a Mozambican court over 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 from the corrupt deal.

Source: AP

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