Germany's government-owned KfW bank got a court order to seize a Chinese ship's cargo of weapons bound for Zimbabwe. But the ship set sail before the order could be served.
South Africa said it wouldn't stop a shipment of Chinese weapons from reaching Zimbabwe
A court in the South African city of Durban had issued an order for the bank to seize the cargo of Chinese arms onboard the "An Yue Jiang," Kreditanstalt fuer Wiederaufbau (KfW) spokesman Michael Helbig told "Spiegel Online."
The KfW, however, had not "accepted weapons as security for its demands on the Zimbabwean government" because "at the time, we were told the nature of the cargo was not precisely known," said Helbig.
KfW helps in various development projects
The legal order came too late anyway. The Chinese ship had left South Africa already on Friday, before a bailiff could go on board to confiscate more than 70 tons of weapons and ammunition ordered by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.
The KfW did not intend to secure the cache of weapons per se, but instead wanted to exercise its legal rights to enforce repayment of a loan to Zimbabwe's state-owned Iron & Steel Company, which had been guaranteed by the Zimbabwean government, "Spiegel" reported.
The KfW development bank had given the Iron & Steel Company one loan in 1998 and another in 2000, worth more than "a two-digit million sum," said Helbig, to aid the firm in building a steelworks. South African media reported that the sum totaled some 40 million euros ($64 million).
The KfW said that since Iron & Steel had not paid its debts, the Zimbabwean government was liable for repaying the loan. The bank had sought legal permission as early as 2006 to allow it to seize Zimbabwean government assets outside Zimbabwe.
Whereabouts of ship unknown
The "An Yue Jiang" is thought to be carrying assault rifle ammunition, mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades, according to South African media.
Elections were over nearly a month ago, but results are open
It was believed to be on its way to Luanda, Angola, as human rights and labor groups had campaigned to stop the cargo being moved through South Africa to Zimbabwe.
Separately, Zimbabwe's opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, on Monday requested that the United Nations and the African Union help resolve his country's political crisis.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also called Zimbabwe's electoral commission to release the results of the March 29 presidential election without further delay. Countries around the world have responded similarly, saying that the delayed announcement of official results was impinging on democracy.
Opposition supporter in Zimbabwe
While the opposition Movement for Democratic Change claims that Tsvangirai won last month's election outright, President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party says neither Tsvangirai nor Mugabe got more than 50 percent of the vote, meaning that a run-off would be required.
Mugabe has been in power for nearly three decades. Zimbabwe has been suffering from a massive economic crisis for years -- with an inflation rate of 165,000 percent, over 80 percent unemployment and even basic foodstuffs in short supply.