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Mozambique's Former Finance Minister Denied Bail in Tuna Bond Scandal
Judge Deems Manuel Chang a Flight Risk
A U.S. federal judge has ruled that Manuel Chang, Mozambique's former finance minister, must remain in custody while awaiting trial for his alleged involvement in the "tuna bond" scandal. The scandal caused the African nation to go bankrupt and led to Credit Suisse paying millions of dollars in penalties. Despite hoping to be granted bail after spending almost five years in prison in South Africa awaiting extradition, Chang's request was denied by Judge Nicholas Garaufis. The judge deemed Chang a flight risk, stating that he could potentially seek refuge at the Mozambique Mission in Manhattan.
Denial of Bail and Flight Risk Concerns
Judge Garaufis expressed concern that Chang could present himself at the Mozambique Mission and be harbored and returned to Mozambique. To address this, Chang's lawyer proposed that his client wear a GPS ankle bracelet and agree to remain in Brooklyn. Additionally, Chang would post a $1 million personal recognizance bond, secured by $100,000 in cash, and surrender his passport. The prosecutor argued that Chang is a flight risk because he has no ties to the United States, faces a potential prison sentence of up to 55 years if convicted, and allegedly received $5 million in bribes.
The Alleged Conspiracy and Devastating Impact on Mozambique
Chang is one of eight individuals charged in an alleged conspiracy to embezzle hundreds of millions of dollars from $2 billion worth of loans arranged for questionable maritime projects, including tuna fishing boats. Prosecutors claim that Chang received $5 million in bribes in exchange for providing a government guarantee from Mozambique on these loans, which were arranged by Credit Suisse. When the loans defaulted, Mozambique experienced a sovereign debt collapse that severely impacted its economy.
Chang's Plea and Defense Strategy
Chang has pleaded not guilty to three charges related to conspiracy, wire fraud, securities fraud, and money laundering. His lawyer hinted at their defense strategy, arguing that although Chang's signature appears on the loan documents, it does not necessarily imply his knowledge of the fraud. They contend that he was required to sign the documents due to his government role. Three Credit Suisse bankers involved in the case have previously pleaded guilty, while a tuna boat executive was acquitted in 2019. The three remaining accused individuals are currently not in custody.
Interpreter and Language Barrier
During the arraignment, Chang utilized a Portuguese interpreter. When asked if he spoke English, Chang responded in Portuguese, stating that he understood but did not speak the language. Judge Garaufis inquired about Chang's English proficiency, considering that he holds a master's degree from the University of London. Chang's lawyer requested an interpreter for the significance of the proceedings, and the judge granted the request.
The denial of bail to Manuel Chang, Mozambique's former finance minister, in the tuna bond scandal has significant implications, particularly for new businesses looking to operate in Mozambique or engage in international transactions.
Firstly, this high-profile case draws attention to the issues of corruption and financial mismanagement that have plagued Mozambique. The allegations of embezzlement and bribery involving government officials and international institutions like Credit Suisse create an environment of distrust and signal potential risks for business ventures. Investors may become cautious about operating in a country where such fraudulent activities have taken place, impacting the perception of Mozambique's business and investment climate.
Secondly, the case highlights the importance of due diligence and risk assessment when collaborating with foreign partners or securing loans. Businesses need to be aware of the potential implications of entering into agreements with individuals or organizations that have been implicated in financial scandals. Thorough vetting processes and comprehensive risk management strategies become essential in protecting the interests of new businesses.
Moreover, the language barrier revealed in the trial between Chang and the judge raises concerns about effective communication in cross-border transactions. This emphasizes the importance of language skills and the need for reliable interpretation services in international business dealings.
In conclusion, the ongoing tuna bond scandal and the denial of bail to Manuel Chang underscore the need for transparency, accountability, and careful vetting of partners in new business ventures. Businesses must remain vigilant in conducting comprehensive due diligence and risk assessments to mitigate the potential risks associated with operating in countries affected by corruption and financial misconduct.
Article First Published at: https://www.cnbc.com/2023/07/14/mozambique-ex-minister-denied-bail-over-2-billion-tuna-bond-scandal.html