JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A South African court has ruled that Mozambique's former finance minister Manuel Chang can be extradited to the United States, where he is wanted on charges related to a $2 billion (£1.5 billion) debt scandal, one of Chang's lawyers said on Monday.
While a blow to Chang's legal team, who would prefer him to face related charges in Mozambique, the judge's ruling effectively constitutes only a recommendation to South Africa's justice minister, who has the final say.
Chang has been in custody in South Africa since December when he was arrested at the request of the United States for his alleged involvement in $2 billion of borrowing that U.S. authorities say was fraudulent.
Chang signed off on the loans, which were guaranteed by the government but not disclosed, during his time as finance minister. Mozambique's subsequent acknowledgement of the undisclosed borrowing prompted donors to cut off support and triggered a currency collapse.
Stiaan Krause, one of Chang's lawyers, told Reuters via WhatsApp that the South African court had ruled Chang was extraditable to the United States. He didn't elaborate, or immediately reply to subsequent messages.
Chang's lawyers had argued against him being sent to the United States, where a trial would likely lift the lid on as-yet unknown details of the debt affair with potential implications for senior members of Mozambique's ruling party ahead of elections in October.
Instead, they argued he should be extradited to neighbouring Mozambique, where he also faces charges related to his involvement with the loans.
The same court will now consider Mozambique's request for Chang's extradition, and make a similar judgement on whether Chang can be extradited there.
Justice Minister Michael Masutha will then have the final say on where, if anywhere, Chang should be extradited. South African foreign minister Lindiwe Sisulu has previously said Chang should be handed back to Mozambique.
(Reporting by Emma Rumney; Editing by Mark Heinrich)