A former Mozambican Finance Minister Manuel Chang has been handed over to Interpol to be extradited home instead of to the US, South Africa’s justice department has confirmed.
The decision has led to diplomatic tension and a last-minute attempt to stop him from being sent to Mozambique.
The US embassy in Pretoria issued a statement on Sunday saying it noted “with great disappointment” that South Africa had decided to extradite Mr Chang to Mozambique despite having received its extradition request before that of Mozambique.
Mr Chang is accused of fraud and corruption after allegedly receiving bribes to sign off on international loans of $2bn (£1.5bn) intended to buy fishing trawlers and military patrol boats but much of it allegedly diverted to government officials.
He denies any wrongdoing.
The US embassy statement said the alleged crimes had “victimised US citizens and robbed the government of Mozambique of over $700m”.
Mr Chang was arrested in December 2018 and held in South Africa while the government considered rival extradition requests.
Civil society groups in South Africa and Mozambique have questioned whether Mozambique has the political will or capacity to mount a proper prosecution.
On Monday, 19 accused went on trial in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, including Ndambi Guebuza, the son of former Mozambican President Armando Guebuza.
Lawyers for the Mozambican Forum de Monitoria do Orçamento (FMO), a non-government organisation (NGO) that monitors government finances, said they were preparing to file an urgent application in the South African High Court on Wednesday in a last-minute attempt to block the extradition.
Draft papers said Mr Chang should be extradited to the US as “Mozambican citizens would not be served by Mr Chang’s extradition to Mozambique”.