19 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Court Decision Questioned in Wikileaks Case

Questions are being asked over the decision by a Zimbabwe High Court to award the head of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) a multi million dollar lawsuit, over information released by the online whistleblower WikiLeaks.

CIO Director, Retired Major-General Happyton Bonyongwe, won the US$10 million defamation suit against Africa Consolidated Resources boss Andrew Cranswick, who was booted off his claim in the Chiadzwa diamond fields in 2008. Bonyongwe sued Cranswick last year over previously confidential comments published in a WikiLeaks report, which linked Bonyongwe to diamond looting.

The comments were contained in a diplomatic cable from the US Embassy, created by the then Ambassador James McGee in November 2008. The cable contained details of a meeting between Cranswick and the US embassy, with Cranswick warning: "High-ranking Zimbabwean government officials and well-connected elites are generating millions of dollars in personal income by hiring teams of diggers to hand-extract diamonds from the Chiadzwa mine in eastern Zimbabwe."

Cranswick told the US Embassy that Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono, Grace Mugabe, Vice President Joice Mujuru, the then Mines and Mining Development Minister Amos Midzi, General Constantine Chiwenga and wife Jocelyn, CIO Director Bonyongwe, Manicaland Governor Chris Mushowe, and several white Zimbabweans, including Ken Sharpe, Greg Scott, and Hendrik O,Neill, are all involved in the Marange diamond trade.

Bonyongwe launched his lawsuit last year after trying to force Cranswick to pay damages over the information in the WikiLeaks cables, insisting the claims were false and a defamation of his character. This was held up in court last week, with a judge ordering Cranswick to pay the US$10 million damages suit. His lawyer has indicated he will challenge this at the Supreme Court. Cranswick meanwhile no longer operates in Zimbabwe.

The debate over the merit of WikiLeaks has continued to simmer ever since the group started releasing confidential material online several years ago. Supporters have welcomed the revelations of the inner workings of governments around the world, while critics have said the reports are damaging because of their confidential nature.

The ZANU PF aligned media, like the state mouthpiece Herald newspaper and ZBC broadcaster, have been quick to dismiss the WikiLeaks cables as a deliberate attempt by the west to 'destabilise' Zimbabwe. The leaked cables have shone a spotlight directly on ZANU PF, with revelations of infighting, power grappling and claims about Robert Mugabe's ill health, all making international headlines.

Bonyongwe has not been the first ZANU PF individual to take his anger over the WikiLeaks revelations further, by filing a lawsuit. His lawsuit was filed at the time that Grace Mugabe filed her own US$15 million defamation claim against The Standard newspaper, which also published news articles about the WikiLeaks report. Gideon Gono has also filed a US$12.5 million suit against the same newspaper over the report.

Former diplomat Clifford Mashiri told SW Radio Africa on Monday that the court's decision must be questioned, because, "it is an opinion held worldwide that WikiLeaks information is not reliable and doesn't stand up in court." He said the Zim court "appears to be caught up in a political trial," with ZANU PF trying to save face over the "embarrassing" WikiLeaks information.

"ZANU PF has an axe to grind and they have used Cranswick as the sacrificial lamb and test case, to show the world what they will do. So this is a political trial not a normal law suit," Mashiri said.

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