Nieeb threatens Daily News with $10m lawsuit

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HARARE – Lawyers for the National Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Board (Nieeb) plan to launch a $10 million defamation claim against the Daily News, alleging that the organisation has been falsely accused of using gun-wielding security personnel to stop the Anti-Corruption Commission from probing the body.

Investigators from Zimbabwe’s anti-corruption watchdog claimed two months agothat they were barred by gun-toting men from entering the Nieeb head office in central Harare, to investigate dodgy indigenisation deals.

Armed with a search warrant from the High Court, the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) officers said on three occasions they were denied entry by armed men into the Nieeb offices at the high-rise National Social Security Centre.

Nieeb legal representatives Titan Law Chambers wrote to the Daily News, Zimbabwe’s leading paper yesterday confirming they were in the process of preparing statements of claim against the paper if it did not retract the claims contained in its March 13 and March 14 reports titled ‘Nieebgate probe team flees gunmen’ and ‘All eyes on High Court’, respectively.

The Daily News yesterday said it would defend the action.

The suit comes more than one and half months after publication of the articles, and a few days after the Daily News singled out the Nieebgate scandal as the story of the year in its 2nd anniversary supplement published last Thursday.

“These publications were scandalous, wrongful, fictitious and highly defamatory of Nieeb as they were intended and understood by the readers of the newspaper that Nieeb is a violent, corrupt body which conducts its mandate unlawfully in a ‘mafia style’ to the extent of using gun men to protect the alleged unethical businesses,” said the statement.

Nieeb claimed it had been unfairly portrayed and said the impression created by the articles “severely tarnished the image of Nieeb by diminishing its standing in the eyes of the general public thereby jeopardising its national mandate to spearhead the indigenisation and empowerment objectives of government.”

“In that regard, we are instructed to demand a retraction of these malicious articles by the publication of an unconditional apology in the Daily News,” Nieeb’s lawyers said.

“The retraction should be on the front page of the paper under a prominent headline.

“Should a retraction not be published in the above manner by the 7th of May, 2013, we have instructions to immediately and without further notice to you, take the necessary civil action to sue for defamation damages to the tune of $10 million.

“You will also become liable for all legal costs accrued as a result.”

The Daily News reported that Zacc officers were barred entry by gun-toting men despite being in possession of a search warrant to seize documents at the Nieeb offices that were meant to assist them in their investigations.

Zacc had reasonable grounds to suspect there was abuse of duty by public officers who handled the indigenisation transactions in contravention of Section 174 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, Chapter 9:23.

Particularly, the probe team wanted a register of all mining companies that have complied with the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act, copies of all agreements entered into between the mining companies and the government of Zimbabwe and communities.

The anti-corruption watchdog also wanted contract documents concerning the engagement of Top Harvest, the first private equity investment firm that stitched the first Zimplats indigenisation deal before Brainworks Capital (Private) Limited was engaged.

The Zacc officers also wanted contract documents concerning the engagement of Brainworks to render consultancy services on indigenisation to the government.

From the Zimplats deal alone, Brianworks stood to pocket up to $45 million after successfully completing the deal, with an initial payout of $17 million in consultancy fees. Zimplats has refused to pick that tab, meaning taxpayers will probably be forced to fork out millions to George Manyere’s Brainworks.

The anti-corruption officials  were also looking for Community Ownership Trust documents concerning Zimplats, Unki Mine, Mimosa Mine, and Murowa Diamonds, but say they were barred from accessing the offices by the gunmen. – Gift Phiri, Political Editor

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