Special Assistant to the President for Press and Public Relations Amos Chanda says he was unable to disqualify the New York trip dossier as a fake document when News Diggers! brought it to his attention because he didn’t want to dignify an illegally acquired document.

And Chanda says it has now come to his attention that the document in question was “possibly doctored”.

Meanwhile, Chanda says Cabinet Office has instituted an administrative inquiry to ascertain how individuals either at Cabinet Office, Zanaco or News Diggers! would have concocted figures and entries on the bank statement.

Addressing a media briefing at State House yesterday, Chanda said President Lungu had never gone for any diner dance whilst in New York.

“We called you here just to address a few things rising out of the publication in the News Diggers! on Wednesday, March 14, 2017, particularly the story, ‘Cash Flow on Lungu’s Trips’. This is a grossly inaccurate story alleging astronomical expenditure on Presidential trips, particularly the one in New York. This inaccurate story was based on conclusions the paper made on an illegally generated and possibly doctored bank statement from Zanaco. There is a very strong feeling at State House that this document is doctored, because if it contains details such as boat cruises, I can state in certainty that that never happened, it has never happened on any of the Presidential trips. Then conclusions about dinner dance are grossly inaccurate. It is false actually, not even inaccurate. About the walking safaris, the President has never gone on a walking safari and he has never been to a dinner dance in the two visits he has made to New York,” Chanda said.

And Chanda said the bank statement was possibly doctored adding that State House would be very careful on what to say.

He said an inquiry had been opened at Cabinet Office.

“So if the story is basing its conclusions on such falsehoods, which [during] preliminary [investigations] we have established as totally patently false, then our suspicions that it is doctored suffices. But because it is illegally generated, State House will be very considerate on what it says and what it does not say on this matter. Given the already established position that the bank statement is an illegality and possibly doctored, we will therefore be very limited on what we can say. And this is based on the following, that an administrative inquiry is taking place in Cabinet Office. The Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet Christopher Mvunga is undertaking a comprehensive inquiry to see how individuals either in Cabinet Office, in the Bank or in News Diggers! would have concocted figures and entries and cause them to be published,” Chanda said.

“I have stated that an illegality has occurred, that the document was illegally generated. The bank has issued it, they have told us that they did not issue it. So I cannot speculate any further as to who issued it. So I cannot speculate further, but government is being questioned by a patently false document and that is the only reason Christopher Mvunga is undertaking an inquiry. And if an inquiry is being undertaken and if I have stated that this is an illegally generated statement, I can possibly speculate that a criminal line of inquiry is possible. This is why we are limited in what we say on this matter.”

Chanda said News Diggers! could have been a victim of individuals who wanted to malign government.

“Of course it is true that the President went to New York. But it is beneath the dignity of journalism to concoct things and portray them as true just because you can point at one or two truths. News Diggers may have been a victim of individuals who want to malign the government, that however does not mean excuse the newspaper, a radio station or Television from applying the highest standards of professionalism,” he said.

When reminded that News Diggers! gave him an opportunity to be heard before the story was published, Chanda said; “I can confirm to you here that the President has never been on a boat cruise, he’s never gone to dinner dancing in New York. So given the totality of all these things and still the story went to print, I must state that they got in touch with me but the reason why we could not give a comprehensive statement, clearly entries that were patently false were detected. So we did not want to dignify a clearly maliciously constructed narrative that you would print something false about extravagance in Presidential travels.”

Chanda insisted that the documents were doctored and meant to injure President Lungu’s image.

“I can’t imagine how much shopping would require cargo shipping and these are cargo ships. There has never been anything like that by the President or anyone in his entourage. So having said that, I want to limit myself to saying that these are doctored documents meant to injure the image of the President. Just because you can prove that the President went to New York, does not excuse the falsehoods that you had afterwards. Just because you can prove that Amos Chanda was on the list, Kaizer Zulu was on the list, Director Lombe Chambwe was on he list…that is true, that’s how the President travels when he goes to the New York general assembly…Journalists were on that trip paid for by government but it is not true that the government paid for musicians, it’s Mathew Ngulube who paid for the musicians that went to New York,” Chanda said.

Chanda charged that News Diggers! and the New Vision Newspapers were competing each other in a race to the bottom.

“I can see the competition in publishing falsehoods between these two tabloids, the New Vision and the News Diggers. Even in their race to the bottom they are still competing. This is very bad for government’s relationship with media organisations, especially that this seems to be a politically motivated narrative because you could see that immediately it was published, some politicians started making misinformed comments. But of course if the content is misinformed, the comments will also be misinformed,” said Chanda.