Mozambique rescues kidnapped 'drug baron'

Police patrol on November 16, 2013 in Mozambique's central port city of Beira (AFP Photo/Maria Celeste Mac'arthur) (AFP/File)

Maputo (AFP) - Mozambique police have rescued a wealthy businessman branded a "drug baron" by the US government who was kidnapped in Maputo more than a month ago, state media said Sunday.

Momade Bachir Suleman was freed in a dawn operation Saturday in Macia town, some 130 kilometres (80 miles) north of the capital Maputo.

"At 5:00 am (0300 GMT) I was being transported to a third captivity location, when the police rescued me," he told state television, adding that around 30 officers took part in the rescue.

Interior Minister Alberto Mondlane had earlier confirmed his release in an interview with public radio.

The businessman was kidnapped November 12 by four gunmen from a mosque at a popular downtown Maputo shopping centre.

Bashir claimed his captors treated him badly and subjected him to psychological torture.

The kidnappers, who Bashir alleged were South Africans and Zimbabweans, initially sought $10 million in ransom, he said.

Known locally as MBS, Bashir in 2010 was branded a "significant foreign narcotics trafficker" under the US "Kingpin Act."

He was subjected to a US assets freeze and visa ban, but remains well connected to Mozambique's political and economic elite.

His last known public appearance was at a local business association banquet in September when he was seated close to president-elect Filipe Nyusi.

Bashir has reportedly made large donations to Nyusi's Frelimo party, which has ruled Mozambique since independence from Portugal nearly 40 years ago.

He lives down the street from the presidential palace in a mansion boasting a large chandelier and a glass-walled entryway.

He is the latest in a series of prominent Maputo businessmen kidnapped in recent years.

Mozambique is an important transit point for heroin and other drugs into Africa.