Image of Maputo: Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

By Richard Messick
First posted on the Global Anticorruption Blog

The government of Mozambique took two hits on the second day of what could well be the corruption trial of the decade, which began on Monday 23 August 2021. Defendant Cipriano Mutota, a former intelligence official, testified that both the country’s current president and his predecessor were deeply involved in the corruption, a scheme where officials approved $2.1-billion in secret loans, conspiring with foreign banks and shipbuilding companies to set up dodgy projects in return for $150-million in bribes. A scene from his gripping testimony, captured in a screen grab circulating on Mozambican social media, appears below.

Separately, the Fórum de Monitoria do Orçamento or Budget Monitoring Forum (FMO) has filed an emergency motion to prevent South Africa from extraditing Manuel Chang, who signed off on the loans as finance minister, to Mozambique. Chang has been jailed in South Africa for two years pending the government’s decision on whether to extradite him to the US or Mozambique. Both want him, the US because American investors lost millions thanks to the secret debts, Mozambique to stand trial for his role in the corruption.

Screenshot, Hidden debt trial, August 24, 2021

The government of South Africa has agreed to delay returning Chang to Mozambique pending a hearing on its legality on Friday 27 August at 10h00. Along with South Africa’s minister of justice, the government of Mozambique will appear and argue in support of the decision. FMO’s draft order, which the court accepted and issued, is here.

FMO filed the emergency request Tuesday evening after the South African government refused to consent to a brief delay in Chang’s return to allow an orderly consideration of whether the decision complied with South African and international law. In its filing, the group, an umbrella organisation whose 22 civil society organisations serve virtually every impoverished or low income Mozambican, argues that the evidence shows the government will not really put such a senior figure on trial for corruption. Or if it does, he will get a most a slap on the wrist for a scheme that threw millions into poverty and by one estimate shaved $10-billion off the GDP.

FMO cites a previous Mozambique extradition request that had every appearance of a put-up job, initiated not to bring Chang to justice but from a fear that were he sent to the US he would spill the beans on cronies in return for leniency. Rumours circulating in Maputo that Chang’s relatives have planned a lavish welcome home party have only stoked concerns he has little to fear from a trial in Mozambique.

FMO chair Adriano Nuvunga has called South Africa’s decision to send Chang to Mozambique “a victory of impunity” and has urged “all southern Africa CSO movements to come together to stop the triumph of impunity.” FMO’s papers seeking a temporary delay in Chang’s return pending a full hearing are here. The Gauteng Division of the High Court may act on the request as early as Wednesday morning South African time.