, Johannesburg, South Africa, Feb 26 – A South African court started hearing arguments on Tuesday on whether Mozambique’s ex-finance minister, held since December on a US warrant, can be extradited and if so, to where.
Manuel Chang, 63, was arrested at Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport on December 29 over alleged involvement in $2 billion (1.76 billion euros) of fraudulent loans to Mozambican state firms.
Both the US and Mozambique have issued their own extradition requests over the allegations.
The court did not rule on Tuesday on which request it would consider first and adjourned the case to next month.
Charges against Chang relate to loans taken by Maputo when he was head of treasury between 2005 and 2015.
The money was allegedly used to secretly buy a tuna-fishing fleet and surveillance ships.
An independent audit found that a quarter of the loan amount was illicitly diverted.
The United States alleges at least $200 million of the loans was spent on bribes and kickbacks, including $12 million that went to Chang, who allegedly signed off on debt guarantees.
Mozambique has arrested several suspects linked to the debt scandal, including the son of ex-president Armando Guebuza, as well as intelligence officials.
South African Foreign Minister Lindiwe Sisulu indicated last week that Chang will be handed over to Maputo.
“We’re sending him to Mozambique to be tried,” Sisulu told South Africa’s Daily Maverick news site. “We believe that is the easiest thing for everybody.”
Chang’s lawyer Willie Vermeulen told the court on Tuesday that he will not oppose extradition to Mozambique.
“So it makes no sense to first discuss extradition to the US where he does not want be extradited,” he said.
It is thought to be the first time that a South African court has considered two concurrent requests for extradition in the same case.