The United Nations Development Programme’s country office in Harare and River Ranch Limited are in a state of panic following the publication of a story that vehicles registered in the name of the UNDP were used to smuggle diamonds into South Africa.
They have both threatened to muzzle The Insider directly and indirectly.
River Ranch has threatened through its consultant George Smith to take the matter up with the Media Complaints Committee of the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ).
The UNDP country office threatened The Insider indirectly by complaining about the story to the Financial Gazette which employs the publisher and editor of The Insider, though the two are totally separate publications.
The Insider published the story about the smuggling allegations on March 17 quoting a statement from the UNDP which stated that: “On the particular accusation that UNDP vehicles were used to smuggle diamonds, the investigation found that those vehicles were fraudulently registered in the name of UNDP”.
The UNDP head office in New York instituted a six-month investigation in the operations of its country office in Harare but has refused to release the findings of the investigation.
The investigation was carried out by Frank Dutton, a former South African police officer who founded the Scorpions, an elite police unit. Dutton has also worked for the United Nations in various capacities and was the commander of field operations in Kosovo.
The UNDP was involved with River Ranch through a South African based company, African Management Services Company (AMSCO), which it jointly owns with the International Finance Corporation, an arm of the World Bank.
AMSCO was founded to assist small and medium African owned companies. It started assisting River Ranch in 2004 by seconding five managers to the company. The contract was terminated in July 2007. AMSCO says it was not terminated but ended.
River Ranch is owned by Saudi Arabian billionaire Adel Aujan and Kupukile Resources where former army commander Solomon Mujuru and his business associate Tirivanhu Mudariki are major shareholders.
Other directors of River Ranch include Zambian businessman Mohamed Mulla and George Kantsouris, a South African who was at one time Aujan’s personal assistant and was elevated to chief executive officer of River Ranch.
The allegations of smuggling were raised by Bubye Minerals which was involved in an ownership dispute with River Ranch. Bubye was querying how the mine was able to operate and expand when it was not allowed to sell its diamonds through the formal market because of the ownership dispute.
In his letter of complaint about The Insider story -dated March 23- Smith, a retired judge, said The Insider should retract the story because it was defamatory and contained statements that were completely false. He said though the company had “good grounds for instituting a claim against you (The Insider) in the High Court for damages, it would prefer to have an apology from you and a public retraction of the false statements you have published”.
Smith gave The Insider until March 30 to publish the apology. “If you refuse or fail to do so we shall, lodge a complaint with the Media Complaints Committee that has been established by the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe,” he wrote.
The Insider advised Smith it was no retracting anything. It has also since discovered that Smith sits on the Media Complaints Committee of the VMCZ.
Coincidentally, The UNDP office also filed its complaint to the Financial Gazette, about The Insider story on March 23. The office complained: “..I write to advise that your Mr. Rukuni may be unrelenting in his efforts to bring the name of the UNDP Country Office into disrepute. We reiterate our position that we are fully supportive of the right of journalist (sic) to accurately inform the public. However, in this case we are concerned about what appears to be irresponsible journalism”.
It went on to ask what the relationship between The Financial Gazette and The Insider was, yet it was clear from the contact details on The Insider website that this was an operation entirely run by Rukuni.
The UNDP country office was a subscriber of the printed edition of The Insider , for years, before it stopped printing in 2003.
When asked to explain why the UNDP office had chosen to write to the Financial Gazette instead of confronting The Insider , the UNDP officer who signed the letter said he could not respond because this was an “office decision” and not a personal one.
The resident representative Agostinho Zacarias was said to be away for the week while his deputy Lare Sisay was said to be busy.
The legal advisor of The Insider said the UNDP letter to the Financial Gazette was more threatening than the letter from Smith because the UNDP office was indirectly asking the Financial Gazette to fire Rukuni.
“This is hitting someone below the belt because they want to deprive you of your source of income,” the legal advisor said.
The Insider has advised the UNDP that it will continue to pursue the story until its gets clarification on who fraudulently registered vehicles in its name or gets the full report by Frank Dutton and is satisfied that the organisation has no case to answer.