( dpa ) - Germany's federal government bank KfW obtained a court order in South Africa to seize a cargo of Chinese weapons bound for Zimbabwe, but the ship carrying them slipped out of port before the order could be served, a German website reported Monday.
Spiegel Online quoted KfW spokesman Michael Helbig saying that a court in Durban had issued an order seizing the cargo.
The legal move came too late, as the vessel left South Africa 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.
Spiegel said that KfW was not aiming to keep the cargo but 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. KfW is Berlin's banking arm.
"At the time, we were told the nature of the cargo was not precisely known," said Helbig.
Since Iron and Steel had not paid its debts, the Zimbabwean government is liable to repay, KfW maintains. Helbig said it obtained an arbitrator's ruling in 2006 allowing it to seize Zimbabwean government assets outside Zimbabwe.
The ship was believed to be on its way Monday to Luanda, Angola.
Human rights and labour groups campaigned to stop the cargo being moved through South Africa to Zimbabwe.