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S.Africa to extradite Mozambique ex-minister: report

South Africa will extradite Mozambique’s ex-finance minister Manuel Chang, held in a Johannesburg jail since December on a US-issued international arrest warrant, a respected news site reported Thursday.

Chang, 63, was arrested at Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport on December 29 over his alleged involvement in $2 billion of fraudulent loans to Mozambican state firms.

His own government issued an extradition request for Chang on suspicion of financial misconduct.

Last week, he lost a court bid to be freed on bail.

Now South Africa’s Foreign Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has said 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.

“As soon as we are done with the Interpol case, we will allow Mozambique to have their former minister back.”

She said the process will be “expedited”.

Chang is due back in court in Johannesburg on February 26.

South African foreign ministry spokesman Ndivhuyo Mabaya would not confirm or deny the reported extradition decision.

He told AFP South Africa had “received an extradition request from Mozambique through the normal diplomatic channels”.

The request “is receiving attention from our Justice Department,” Mabaya said.

Chang had until recently enjoyed automatic immunity as a lawmaker, but was stripped of the privilege last month in the wake of the case that has shaken his impoverished southern African country.

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.

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

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

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

Last week, Mozambique made its first arrests linked to the case, detaining more than half-a-dozen suspects, including the son of ex-president Armando Guebuza and intelligence officials.