NEWS Diggers Media Limited says Belarusian businessman Alexander Zingman appears to be an honoured and welcome guest of government, therefore, he should have no difficulty prosecuting his claim against the media house should he choose to sue.
On May 28, 2020, News Diggers published an investigation linking President Edgar Lungu to Zingman who, according to the Business News Line publication of March 25, 2020, is associated with questionable deals between Russian dealers and African countries.
It also published photographs where President Lungu is seen with Defence Permanent Secretary Sturdy Mwale, Zambia Air Force Commander Lt Gen David Muma and Defence attaché at the Zambian Embassy in Moscow, Lt Gen Robert Kampeshi, posing with the said businessman.
Shortly the publication, Zingman’s UK-based lawyers wrote to News Diggers Media Limited, requesting it to confirm where or whom it obtained photographs of their client and to further provide an apology to be published on the website.
According to a letter of demand addressed to News Diggers editor-in-chief Joseph Mwenda and reporter Sipilisiwe Ncube, Zingman, through his lawyers from Daniel L. Delnero and Squire Patton Boggs, was demanding that News Diggers should within two working days of receiving the letter, remove the Article, including the e-Paper version from the website and provide them with evidence of the same.
They stated that should News Diggers fail to comply with the said requirements, Zingman reserved the right to issue proceedings against the media house.
But in a letter addressed to Zingman’s lawyers, News Diggers, through its lawyers from Nchito and Nchito Advocates, stated that Zingman was entitled to litigate his grievances.
“Your client appears to be an honoured and welcome guest of our government and should have no difficulty prosecuting his claim through our courts should he choose to litigate his grievances which he is entitled to do. Kindly take note that we have instructions to accept service of any court process on behalf of our client,” read the letter.
News Diggers however, stated that it was disappointed that although in letter of May 28, 2020, Zingman’s lawyers indicated that they had attached a Pre-action Protocol for Media and Communications Claims to their letter of demand, the same was not attached.
“It is unfortunate that even after our client brought this issue to your attention, you neglected to supply them a copy of the document despite having earlier undertaken to do so. Assuming that the protocol you are referring to is the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Justice Pre-action Protocol for Media and Communications Claims, we should not be surprised that you have not supplied it as you are required to, because it is not helpful to the posture that you have taken on your client’s case which may explain why you have instead engaged in actions that appear calculated to arm twist our client into retracting non-existent defamation as we show below,” read the letter.
“Our client informs us that your Mr Daniel Delnero has had contact with our client’s Managing Director Mr Joseph Mwenda in which he has continually demanded that News Diggers should retract a story that allegedly identifies Mr Zingman as an Arms Dealer. What has not been been made clear is which words identify Mr Zingman as an arms dealer. The foregoing lack of clarity notwithstanding, your Mr Delnero went on to allege in one of the numerous messages he sent to Mr Mwenda that ‘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.’ Mr Delnero did not explain how Mr Fishman was connected to the article Mr Zingman was complaining about nor did he explain how Mr Zingman is connected to Mr Fishman. This confusion is emblematic of the whole demand.”
News Diggers maintained that Zingman was involved in the Russian Sukhoi aircraft deal with Zambia.
It added that Zingman’s refusal to answer some questions was unfortunate and could not support his claim that he had been defamed.
“Our client did try to clear the issues by asking simple but pointed questions. One of the questions was whether Mr Zingman was involved in the Zambian government’s attempt to acquire Russian Sukhoi aircraft. Your Mr Delnero responded by saying ; ” On number three, I can confirm that Mr Zingman has never been a party to any aircraft supply deals with Zambia, including the one you mentioned.” Question three was about the Sukhoi Aircraft deal. Although Mr Delnero appears to have been instructed to say that Mr Zingman was not involved in the Zambian Sukhoi deal, our client maintains on good authority that he was. Your client also refused to confirm that his relationship with Mr Valden Findlay was only social and did not extend to commercial transactions in Zambia or elsewhere,” read the letter.
“Further, having confirmed that he was involved in so called agricultural projects in Zambia, your client also refused to discuss his involvement in a controversial fertilizer transaction allegedly funnelled through the Zambian Ministry of Defence and what, if any, connections existed with Mr Findlay on that. Your client also refused to discuss the important question of whether he received any commissions on Zambian transactions and if he shared the same with any Zambian persons or entities. As far as our client is concerned, these are fair questions on matters of fundamental public interest here in Zambia. Your client’s refusal to answer these questions is unfortunate and cannot support his claim that he has been defamed.”