Court denies bail to Mozambican ex-minister Manuel Chang held in SA

Manuel Chang was arrested at the OR Tambo airport in December on a US extradition request over his alleged involvement in $2 billion of fraudulent loans to state firms.

FILE: Manuel Chang, former finance minister of Mozambique, appears at the Kempton Park Magistrates court to fight extradition to the United states on 8 January 2019 in Kempton Park, South Africa. Picture: AFP

JOHANNESBURG - A South African court denied bail on Friday to Mozambique's ex-finance minister, held in a Johannesburg jail since December under an international arrest warrant issued by the United States.

Manuel Chang, 63, who is still an MP, was arrested at Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport on 29 December on a US extradition request over his alleged involvement in $2 billion of fraudulent loans to state firms.

Mozambique has also issued an extradition request for Chang on suspicion of financial misconduct.

He has made several court appearances in South Africa to challenge his detention, and on Friday, a court in Kempton Park near Johannesburg refused him bail.

"I cannot concede bail to the applicant as it would not be in the interest of justice," ruled magistrate Sagra Subroyen.

The magistrate also expressed concern that Chang, whose passport has been confiscated, could obtain other travel documents and skip the country.

The allegations against Chang relate to a massive government debt that came to light in 2016.

It is alleged the government in Maputo had taken out loans amounting to $2-billion to buy a tuna-fishing fleet and surveillance ships, but hid the transaction from parliament and international donors.

An independent audit found that a quarter of the loan amount was diverted, and unaccounted for.

The United States alleges at least $200 million was spent on bribes and kickbacks, including $12 million on Chang, who allegedly signed off on debt guarantees.

On Thursday, Mozambique made its first arrests linked to the case, detaining five suspects, including businessmen and intelligence officials.

Seven people, including ex-Credit Suisse bankers, are accused by the US of fraud, conspiracy to financial security fraud, and conspiracy to launder money.

The hidden debt plunged Mozambique into its worst financial crisis since independence from Portugal in 1975 as donors froze contributions.

Mozambique is one of the world's poorest countries, and heavily reliant on foreign aid.