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Former Zimbabwe Finance Minister Chombo Remanded in Custody in Fraud Case

Zimbabwe's former finance minister, Ignatius Chombo, center and Kudzanai Chipanga are led to a prison truck in Harare, Zimbabwe, Nov. 25, 2017. Chombo testified that armed men in masks and uniforms abducted him from his home during the military clampdown code-named Operation Restore Legacy.

HARARE, Nov 27 (Reuters) - Ousted Zimbabwe finance minister Ignatius Chombo, charged with three counts of corruption for offences that allegedly took place two decades ago, was denied bail on Monday and will be detained in custody until his case is heard on Dec. 8.

Zimbabwe’s new president Emmerson Mnangagwa named Patrick Chinamasa as acting finance minister to replace him.

Chombo, who faces charges including trying to defraud the central bank, was detained after the military seized power in “Operation Restore Legacy”, which it said was meant to remove “criminals” around former president Robert Mugabe.

His lawyer, Lovemore Madhuku, told reporters that he would appeal the magistrate’s ruling in the High Court on Tuesday.

“Their decision was always made up that bail would not be granted here ... We are hopeful that the High Court will show independence,” Madhuku said.

Earlier, he told a packed courtroom that Chombo, who sat impassively throughout the hearing, would deny the charges at his trial and had documentary evidence showing the allegations had no basis.

The magistrate, who detained Chombo, said the former minister could abscond, influence state witnesses or be the target of a mob attack over the allegations that he abused his position when he was minister of local government over a decade ago.

Chombo, who was appointed finance minister in October, was among members of the Generation 40 or G40 political faction allied to Mugabe and his wife, Grace, who were also expelled from the ruling ZANU-PF party. Two ousted ZANU-PF Youth League leaders, Kudzanai Chipanga and Innocent Hamandishe, who were both allied to G40, were also ordered to be detained until Dec. 8.

Some Mnangagwa supporters have called for unspecified action against G40 but the president has urged citizens not to undertake any form of “vengeful retribution”.

Chombo told the court on Saturday how he was abducted from his home on Nov. 15 by armed men in “soldiers’ uniform” and kept blindfolded for nine days.

He was promoted to the finance portfolio from the interior ministry by Mugabe in an October reshuffle, replacing Chinamasa, who the chief secretary to the president and cabinet said will return to the role until a new cabinet has been appointed.

Zimbabwe is struggling with a severe shortage of the U.S. dollars it uses instead of its own currency.

In his main act as finance minister, Chombo told parliament on Nov. 9 that Zimbabwe’s budget deficit would soar to $1.82 billion or 11.2 percent of gross domestic product this year from an initial target of $400 million.

Mnangagwa, who served Mugabe loyally for decades, was sworn in as president last Friday after the 93-year-old former leader quit under pressure from the military.

He is expected to form a new cabinet this week. Zimbabweans are watching to see if Mnangagwa will break with the past and names a broad-based government or selects other figures from the Mugabe era’s old guard.