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Parliament to investigate Mediagate

Dumisani Muleya

PARLIAMENT has resolved to investigate the media scandal in which the state security agency, the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), was said to have taken over three private newspapers

using public funds.

Sources said the parliamentary portfolio committee on transport and communications decided on Monday to probe the ownership structures of the Financial Gazette, and the two Mirror Group titles, the Daily Mirror and the Sunday Mirror.

The chairman of the 14-member Zanu PF-dominated committee, Leo Mugabe, said his team would not “investigate” Mediagate but “inquire” into it. Leo is President Mugabe’s nephew.

“We resolved that we want to know the true ownership of the newspapers concerned. It’s not an investigation but an inquiry,” he said. “We will make a decision of how to go about it. We will find out from the Media and Information Commission.”

However, sources said Mugabe had attempted and failed to duck the issue by saying it should be referred to the government-appointed MIC, chaired by state media columnist Tafataona Mahoso. His committee members rejected his proposal.

“He (Mugabe) was not comfortable with it. He tried to say we have a lot of other issues to deal with and wanted the MIC to look into the issue but it was rejected.”

Mahoso said on a public television programme, Talking Business, on Wednesday night the only information he had about the Mirror group was the one given by Ibbo Mandaza, who also featured on the talkshow organised by Financial Gazette board member, Supa Mandiwanzira.

The Mirror group profile says the Daily Mirror was founded in 2002 and was first published on September 9 the same year. Together with a sister paper, the Sunday Mirror, the Daily Mirror is owned by Southern Africa Publishing House (Sapho) Pvt Ltd.

The profile reveals that since August 2003, Sapho was “owned by various Zimbabwean business people, among them Dr Ibbo Mandaza” even though Mandaza has claimed he owns the group “100%”.

The Zimbabwe Mirror Newspapers Group (Pvt) Ltd was initially registered in 2001 as High-Portfolio Enterprises (Pvt) Ltd, registration number 8399/2001.

Its directors then were Ibbo Mandaza and Joyce Kazembe, according to its CR 14 dated May 29 2002. On September 3 2002 High-Portfolio Enterprises changed its name through a special resolution dated July 26 2002 to Sapho.

The Sapho directors were Mandaza, Alexander Kanengoni, Thomas James Meke, Ambassador Buzwani Mothobi, John Marangwanda, Charm Ndaba Mukuwane, Tendai Mangezi who resigned on March 22 2004.

A new director, Amy Tsanga, was appointed on May 17 2004. There was also Musi Khumalo, who has since left, and Jonathan Kumbirai Kadzura. On August 12 last year, Sapho changed its name to the Zimbabwe Mirror Newspapers Group (Pvt) Ltd through a special resolution passed on June 22.

Meanwhile, sources said a slush fund with a local bank was used by the CIO to buy into the Financial Gazette. “Funds had been withdrawn from some of the slush funds, including a CBZ Sentry Investments account, to purchase the Financial Gazette,” a source said. “The operation involved a web of financial engineering and a well-orchestrated board coup to seize control of the newspaper.”

Sources said the Mirror group’s overdraft facility at the Jewel Bank had been frozen, while the central bank was taking steps to recall its billions advanced through the productive sector facility. Almost all newspapers in the country got money from the facility.

The crisis gripping the Mirror has worsened its financial situation and fears are mounting that the papers – which have poor advertising and very low circulation – might soon shut down short of a huge capital outlay.

Sources said an audit was also going at the Mirror to check the finances, while the CIO were said to be on a “financial trail” to see if any money was siphoned from the company.

Mirror reporters were said to have been interviewed to find out whether money could have been diverted for personal use. The situation has stepped up pressure against Mandaza who was fighting for his survival in the group, sources said.

Journalists were said to be closely watching the touch-and-go situation to see how it will pan out. Reporters have already started looking for alternative jobs as uncertainty pervades Charter House’s corridors.

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