BELARUSIAN businessman Aleksandr Zingman who appeared in controversial pictures with President Edgar Lungu, Lusaka Businessman Valden Findlay and Russian businessman Alexander Mikheev, has blamed another businessman Vitale Fishman as the person who is behind the allegation levelled against him.
A fortnight ago, News Diggers published images showing President Lungu interacting with Zingman and Mikheev, who is the president of Rosoboronexport, a Russian state intermediary agency for the exports of defense-related products and services.
The photographs showed Defence Permanent Secretary Sturdy Mwale, Zambia Air Force Commander Lt Gen David Muma and Military Attaché at the Zambian Embassy in Moscow, Robert Kampeshi, with the said Belarusian businessman.
Although he operates under the radar, Zingman is reported to be a valuable chain in the relations between Zambia and East Europe, and is believed to have brokered the procurement of helicopters from Russia and the contract for the supply of Sukhoi Superjet 100 aircraft.
But Zingman’s UK-based lawyer Daniel Delnero has told News Diggers, that the person behind the allegations made against Zingman is an actual arms dealer and businessman called Vitale Fishman.
Delnero went further to send articles and social media video footage of Fishman with a caption reading:
“Vitale Fishman is the individual behind the allegations against Mr. Zingman. Mr. Fishman is an actual arms dealer, who has been implicated in multiple international scandals. https://www.diigo.com/item/note/7k4hp/u721?k=92d0a4039b79be3ad5e53fd6f3c59ce3″”
News Diggers then gave an opportunity to Zingman, through his lawyer to explain the nature of his business with President Lungu and the Zambian top military brass.
Diggers: Thank you for sharing the above links, and thank you for granting as an opportunity to ask questions where we need clarifications on the concerns that you raise against our newspaper articles relating to your client.
We have also looked at your letter and we have a few questions to clarify before we can consider legal representation on the issues.
Firstly I would like to assure you that we do have a policy to retract, correct and apologize unreservedly for any inaccurate information that we publish.
To help us understand the ‘inaccuracy’ (if any) of the information we published, we would like you to help us clarify the following issues:
1. We have read the article about Mr Fishman you sent to us. In relation to the article we published, is the person in the picture with the Zambian President and the top military brass Mr Zingman or Mr Fishman?
2. If the person in the picture is Mr Zingman, can you kindly advise the nature of business he was discussing with the pictured Zambian delegations?
3. If Mr Zingman has no links to the Russian organization called, Rosobornexport, could you advise us on the circumstances that got him a meeting with Mr Alexander Mikheev, the president of the Rosobornexport and the Zambian President?
4. Since you say your client‘s dealings with Zambia have to do with Agriculture products and not military, would you enlighten us as to why he was holding meetings with our Zambian top military brass, such as the Air Force commander, military attaché in Russia, Ministry of Defence Permanent Secretary ?
5. What is the link between your client and Zambian business man Valden Findlay who is in the pictures?
6. Is your client, Mr Zingman a person under US Federal government sanctions or European Union Sanctions? Is he connected to or an associate of any person, organisation or company that is under US federal government or EU sanctions?
Zingman’s lawyer only answered the last questioning and promising to provide detailed answers to the rest of the questions later.
“On number 6, the answer is no, Mr. Zingman is not on any sanctions list, nor is he an associate of a sanctioned entity. If he was on a sanctions list, I would not be able to represent him,” Delnero said.
But two days later, the lawyer wrote back with a proposal for News Diggers not to publish the responses to the questions asked.
“I have the responses ready to email. Can we agree that the responses will be used solely as part of your analysis regarding our request for a retraction, and that they will not be reprinted?” he asked.
News Diggers rejected the proposal to keep Zingman’s explanation of the pictures private, and told Delnero that since his client claimed to be a clean businessman with transparent dealings in Zambia, there would be nothing wrong with publishing the responses.
According to your letter of demand, we published inaccurate and defamatory material against your client. We find it strange therefore that when we ask for correct information on a matter of public interest here in Zambia you now request that we should not publish your client’s answers.
We are a news organisation that is required to inform the public on a matter such as the one involving your client- one which is in the public interest.
Your own letter of demand unconditionally invited us to ask questions which we have done. We see no reason to undertake not to publish your client’s answers to the simple questions we have posed.
And considering that you have advised us that your client’s dealing with Zambia are transparent, we see no reason why his clarifications to the material we published should be kept away from the public.
In line with our retraction policy, we have stated that once our questions for clarification are responded to, and it is verified (for example) that we published images of a wrong person, we would then retract, correct and apologise.
Asking us to keep the responses private would make it difficult for us to correct what you consider as inaccurate information.
Kindly take note,” News Diggers responded.
A day later, Zingman’s lawyer sent an explanation of the photographs:
I. Photo: We can confirm that Mr. Zingman does appear in that photograph.
II. Nature of the business discussions between Mr. Zingman and the Zambian delegation
Consistent with his broader business activities, Mr. Zingman was in Zambia to discuss Zambia business prospects with Belarus in the area of agriculture, mining, road construction, transport infrastructure, and logistics. During these many meetings, the parties discussed the construction of the tractor assembling plant Chipata, Zambia, which will produce about 2000 tractors per year, other agriculture machinery, and farming implements. It will also create more than 1000 jobs for the Zambian people. This investment, and the construction of the plant, will increase the mechanization of agriculture in Zambia and result in Zambia being less dependent on foreign nations for agricultural machinery. We further note that these discussions are consistent with Mr. Zingman’s role in creating opportunities for Belarussian investment in Zambia and other African nations in the fields of agriculture, mining, and transportation infrastructure. These investments are typically supported and funded through the Development Bank of Belarus, and will involve a significant transfer of knowledge to Zambian people. The tractor assembling plant will be able to be paid back from its own revenue from sales of farming equipment after it is constructed and become operational. It will not have any drain on the Government treasury.
III. Alleged meeting with Mr. Zingman, Mr. Mikheev (President of Rosobornexport), and the President of Zambia
The photograph prompting these claims occurred by pure happenstance. Mr. Zingman indeed had a meeting with The President. There was no meeting between Mr. Zingman, Mr. Mikheev, and the President of Zambia, nor was there a meeting between Mr. Zingman and Mr. Mikheev. Mr. Zingman and Mr. Mikheev happened to have met at State House of Zambia at the same time and, because they are from neighboring countries (Mr. Zingman is from Belarus and Mr. Mikheev is from Russia) and share a common language, Mr. Mikheev requested a photo with The President and Mr. Zingman.
We note further that Mr. Zingman does not have, nor has he ever had, any business or other dealings with Rosobornexport, and does not have any plans to engage in business or other dealings with it.
IV. Meetings with Zambian military and a Russian military attaché
The tractor assembling plant to be constructed will be a contract under Zamcapitol of the Ministry of Defence of Zambia. Mr. Stardy Mwale, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence of Zambia, travelled in 2018 with the military attaché and other senior government officials from Zambia to tour one of the world’s largest, if not number one, tractor manufacturing plants in Minsk, Belarus. During the same period, an MOU was signed to cooperate in this area for tractor production. It was as a result of this cooperation that Mr. Zingman travelled to Zambia for a follow up meeting with The President of Zambia. After the meeting, Mr. Zingman requested that Mr. Stardy Mwale and the military attaché, who happened also to be in Zambia, to meet at a resort in Lusaka and have a dinner. It was during this time that Mr. Zingman first met General Muma, who came with military attaché at the resort. During the dinner, Mr. Zingman requested Mr. Stardy Mwale and General Muma to join him for another dinner on the following day.
V. Links between Mr. Zingman and Valden Findlay
Mr. Zingman and Mr. Findlay have been friends for long time; hence, Mr. Zingman asked Mr. Findlay to join him for dinner.
As discussed previously, Mr. Zingman is not subject to US or European sanctions.
The lawyer then issued a second letter of demand to News Diggers, giving a 12 hours ultimatum for the newspaper to retract the articles, but News Diggers asked further questions as follows:
1. We are in receipt of your further demand and ultimatum and find it wholly unhelpful to your client’s position since we believe we are entitled to clarify his answers and ask follow up questions where necessary. Given the nature of your client’s demand, it is wholly reasonable that we take his answers into consideration before we respond.
2. In your first letter of demand you referred to what you called a Pre-Action Protocol for Media and Communications Claims which you indicated you had attached but as your email will show you have not sent to me. Please let me have the same as I consider a response to you so that I may know what it says and from which country or organisation it is.
3. Kindly confirm for the avoidance of doubt that It is Mr. Zingman’s position that he was not nor is he now involved in the Zambian government Sukhoi Aircraft and other Russian aircraft supply deals?
4. Is it Mr.Zingman’s position that his dealings with Mr. Findlay -a close associate of Zambian President Lungu, is merely social and that neither he nor any of his businesses has any business dealings with Mr.Findlay or through him or any entity that Mr. Findlay controls?
5(a) Has Mr Zingman by himself or any entity that he controls paid or shared any commissions on the Zambian transactions with Mr. Findlay or any entity that Mr.Findlay controls or indeed any other Zambian national or organisation?
5(b) Aside from sharing commissions, has Mr. Findlay or any company that he controls received commissions on the transactions Mr. Zingman is doing and or has done with the Zambian government or any of its entities?
6. Has Mr. Zingman or any entity that he controls or is associated with been involved in a fertiliser deal with the Zambian Government?
7. What is Mr. Zingman’s relationship with Mr. Findlay on the fertiliser agreement?
8. What is the value of this transaction?
9. Who is Mr. Zingman’s contact in the Zambian government on the Investments he claims to have brought to Zambia?
10. Who is Mr. Zingman’s local agent in the transactions he is carrying out with Zambian Government?
11. What is the value of the transactions Mr. Zingman is involved in, in Zambia. How are they financed given that Zambia is in financial distress?
12. Is there any upfront commission payable and or paid by or at the expense of the Zambian Government in relation to the transactions Mr. Zingman is involved in in Zambia?
13. What role has the Zambian Development Agency played in any of the investments Mr Zingman claims to have brought to Zambia?
The lawyer said the questions asked were not related to his client’s claims:
Delnero: This is getting far afield from the claims in the article we have shown to be false, none of which are at all related to a fertilizer deal.
Diggers: Kindly confirm that you are not in a position to respond to any of the questions that we have posed to seek further clarification on your earlier answers; and that you are not willing to share the pre-action Protocol for media and communication claims, which you referred to in your letter of demand.
Zingman’s lawyer: That’s not what I said. I’ll share rhe preaction protocol and discuss the questions with my client. Some are relevant — including those related to aircraft — while others are not.
Diggers: Thank you for your prompt response Daniel.
Please kindly note that all the questions we posed are in connection with your client’s alleged dealings in Zambia. And by your client’s own admission, he is involved in agricultural transactions in my country. Therefore, all the questions we have posed are relevant to us and deserve to be answered.
Zingman’s lawyer: I just don’t want a retraction related to the military/arms accusations to be held up while we discuss other matters. Those are obviously very concerning to us and are causing real damage to my client, because it simply is not the business he is in.
As you hopefully saw from our prior response, we are willing to have an open engagement, as we acknowledged information in the articles that was accurate, rather than just challenged aspects that are not accurate.
Diggers: Noted. But please kindly have your client answer our questions as quickly possible to enable us take stock of our position regarding your demand.
Zingman’s lawyer: On number 3, I can confirm that Mr. Zingman has never been a party to any aircraft supply deals with Zambia, including the one you mentioned.
Delnero, however, did not respond to the questions, but instead issued a third letter of demand, giving News Diggers another 48 hours in which to retract the published articles.
Zingman’s Lawyer: At this point we have provided all the information necessary for News Diggers to determine that the original stories were, in fact false and defamatory. Accordingly, we will engage in no further communication with News Diggers until those articles have been removed and a retraction and apology issued.
Further, if the defamatory articles are not removed and a retraction issued, within 48 hours, we will pursue all legal remedies available to us. On a final note, it appears that News Diggers is basing multiple claims on the fact that Mr Zingman has either met or taken a photograph with particular individuals, including with individuals associated with the fertilizer and aircraft companies mentioned in your June 7, 2020 correspondence.
He said the fact that Zingman appeared in a photograph with particular individuals did not mean that he had engaged in any business transactions with them, or received a commission on any transaction in which they were involved.