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Mediagate turns nasty

Dumisani Muleya

FURTHER evidence that the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) has taken over the Zimbabwe Mirror Newspapers Group surfaced this week after a boardroom coup against company CEO and editor-

in-chief, Ibbo Mandaza.

In a bid to end the battle for control of the media house, the CIO resorted to flexing its muscles to oust Mandaza from the group. Mandaza’s proposed exit strategy, which would have seen him quitting on December 31, was rejected by the CIO last Thursday before his suspension on Monday. The CIO had set September 30 as Mandaza’s date of departure.

The CIO leveraged a buy-out at the Mirror titles, the Daily Mirror and the Sunday Mirror, using public funds. Mandaza for the first time confirmed this in an interview with the Voice of America.

The CIO were also said to have seized control of a leading weekly, the Financial Gazette, through a nominee front. The Zimbabwe Independent understands that efforts are under way to sell the Fingaz in what appears to be an attempt to cover the trail of ownership. The state security agency also runs news websites and has influence in state media newsrooms and media production houses.

Recent court revelations showed the CIO could well be in charge of the government-appointed Media and Information Commission. Tafataona Mahoso, commission chairman, yesterday refused to comment on the Mediagate scandal, saying the issue was now sub-judice.

Intelligence sources said the CIO was behind the closure of four private newspapers, Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ) titles – the Daily News and the Daily News on Sunday – as well as the Tribune and Weekly Times. The agency was currently trying to buy another paper.

Mandaza was suspended without pay on the basis of an Ernst & Young forensic audit report, which the accountancy firm had earlier said was merely a “draft”. The report was only completed on Wednesday and Mandaza got it yesterday.

After his Monday suspension, lines to Mandaza’s office and that of his secretary were blocked. He was ordered to clear out by midday on Tuesday. Mandaza was also ordered to surrender the company’s Toyota Land Cruiser SUV. He was further told to appear before a disciplinary hearing after 14 days.

However, Mandaza went to court to contest his suspension, ownership structure, and the explosive issue of loan securities and guarantees.

“I have no doubt that my suspension is illegal, unprocedural and highly irregular,” Mandaza said in his affidavit. “(But) to avoid a breakdown of law and order, and fearful of the respondents (CIO companies and their representatives)’ muscle and brawn, I have stayed away from the office.”

Mandaza said he had been ejected in a “brazen, flagrant, and underhand boardroom coup”. He said the people behind his suspension through a “kangaroo court” resolution clearly had “no clue what it is at all to run a newspaper group from an operational perspective” because they ran it like a “kindergarten class”.

“They are undoubtedly wet behind the ears and will fast-track my cherished dreams, hopes, and aspirations as captured by the newspaper group, into irreversible ruin and demise,” Mandaza said.

He said if the court failed to protect him in the case – whose “history is drawn out and chequered” – that would simply “amount to rewarding dishonesty and trickery” and be a “downright travesty (of justice)”.

In the process, proof has emerged showing the CIO has wrested control of the papers. The Zimbabwe Independent first broke the story, now referred to as Mediagate, on August 12. Documents lodged with the court confirm CIO ownership of the Mirror group.

Mandaza reacted to his suspension by taking CIO shelf-companies and directors in the Mirror to court on Wednesday. Revealing documents – which the Independent was privy to – were attached to the application.

Documents showed a CIO company, Unique World Investments (Pvt) Ltd, whose address was given as the CIO Chaminuka Building offices, had 51%, while another CIO-linked firm, Zistanbal (Pvt) Ltd (also referred to as Zinstabel), had 19%, while Mandaza had 30% at the Mirror. Amounts paid for the equities were disclosed in the Independent last week.

The documents also reveal correspondence that had been flying between the CIO representatives, Mandaza and Jewel Bank, the Mirror’s bankers, before and after Mediagate disclosures.

The documents reveal the acrimony that beset the Mirror group after the CIO takeover and Mandaza’s failed attempt to drive them out.

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