Thursday, December 16, 2010
Grace Mugabe sues Zimbabwe newspaper over Wikileaks diamond story
First lady files $15m lawsuit against paper for reporting embassy cables alleging links to illegal diamond trade
Grace Mugabe is suing a Zimbabwean newspaper for $15m (£9.5m) for reporting allegations released by Wikileaks that she had made "tremendous" profits in the illicit diamond trade, according to state media.
The first lady launched a defamation suit against the Standard newspaper in the high court in Harare yesterday. The offending article quoted extensively from a US embassy cable that alleged Mrs Mugabe was among a group of elite Zimbabweans making "several hundred thousand dollars a month" from the sale of illegal stones mined in the Marange district – scene of a frenzied diamond rush in recent years.
The state-owned Herald newspaper said the claims made against the wife of President Robert Mugabe were "false, scandalous, malicious and bent on damaging her reputation". Court papers said the first lady, who is known for her enthusiastic shopping trips abroad, was "well regarded internationally".
"Further, she is the wife of his excellency the president of Zimbabwe. The imputation of such conduct on a person of such high standing, the mother of the nation, is to lower the respect with which she is held by all right-thinking persons, to a point of disappearance."
In the cable released by Wikileaks, US ambassador James McGee described a meeting between one of his political officers and the representative of a mining company that had its Chiadzwa diamond claim in the Marange district of eastern Zimbabwe revoked by the government. The mining company official was reported to have said that "well-connected elites are generating millions of dollars in personal income by hiring teams of diggers to hand-extract diamonds" from Chiadzwa, before reselling the stones to shady foreign buyers.
From 2006, thousands of illegal miners swarmed to the diamond fields, among the world's richest finds in recent times, and initially sold their stones to the government. The military soon moved in, forcing people to work for them and later firing at groups of diggers from helicopter gunships in an effort to control the mining. There were also numerous reports of people close to the Mugabe government profiting greatly from the trade at the expense of the state, which was suffering grave foreign currency shortages at the time.