JOHANNESBURG — A former Mozambican finance minister on Tuesday appeared in a South African court following a U.S. extradition request linked to a $2 billion loan scandal that plunged Mozambique into financial crisis.
Manuel Chang's lawyer argued for the release of the former minister, who was arrested at the main international airport in Johannesburg on Dec. 29. Security was tight at the courthouse and several protesters stood outside, demanding that Chang and other suspects pay back any pilfered funds. The case was postponed until Wednesday.
An indictment made public on Thursday in U.S. federal court in Brooklyn tied Chang and other defendants to an alleged fraud scheme involving companies created by Mozambique to obtain loans earmarked for coastal surveillance, tuna fishing and shipyard construction. The indictment says the projects were fronts that allowed the defendants to pay at least $200 million in bribes and kickbacks to themselves, government officials and others in violation of U.S. anti-corruption laws.
In 2013, Chang was paid "at least $5 million in bribe and kickback payments" from a bank account in the United Arab Emirates, through the United States, and to a bank account in Spain, the indictment alleges.
While Chang's lawyers in South Africa focus on the fight against extradition, a Lebanese businessman and three former Credit Suisse employees have also been arrested. The indictment alleges the three bankers conspired to get around their bank's internal controls, though critics have questioned compliance procedures at Credit Suisse.
Credit Suisse noted that no action has been taken against the bank and that the indictment says the former employees sought to enrich themselves, using personal email accounts to try to hide their scheme.
"Credit Suisse will continue to co-operate with relevant regulators following these indictments," the bank said.
Russian bank VTB also provided loans linked to the scandal.
The International Monetary Fund and other lenders stopped providing aid to Mozambique in 2016 after learning about the concealed loans, setting off a debt crisis in the impoverished country. Under its agreement with the IMF, Mozambique had agreed to limit loans from private lenders.
An IMF mission visited Mozambique in November, saying the economy was recovering gradually and that it welcomed efforts by Mozambican prosecutors "to bring accountability to the issue of the previously undisclosed debts."
The attorney general's office in Mozambique said it previously asked the United States for information about the alleged fraud so that it could build its own investigation, but did not receive any reply before the U.S. indictment. It said it has 18 suspects.
Global consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft, however, said the U.S. indictment hurts Mozambique's credibility because it draws attention to the "failure to ensure accountability," including among ruling Frelimo party figures, in the southern African nation.
Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi was defense minister when the illegal loans occurred and Chang's arrest could deflect scrutiny of his own actions at the time, said Ed Hobey-Hamsher, senior Africa analyst with the firm. He predicted that Nyusi could face more international criticism over the scandal but is likely to lead the ruling party in October presidential and other elections.