HONEYBEE Pharmacy Limited, the company that supplied toxic drugs and defective condoms to the Ministry of Health under a US$17 million tender, is seeking to close News Diggers using state institutions if the newspaper does not retract the revelations contained in its investigation.
And Honeybee has given News Diggers another 48 hours ultimatum in which to apologise for publishing the said articles before it is forced to pay US$200 million and declared bankrupt.
But News Diggers Managing Director Joseph Mwenda says the newspaper will not waste time responding to Honeybee because it already gladly accepted the legal challenge.
Mwenda added that News Diggers would wait to see how the state institutions approached by Honeybee would execute the wish of the defective condom suppliers.
According to letters copied to News Diggers, Honeybee has written to ZRA Commissioner of taxes, Director General National Pension Scheme Authority and the National Health Insurance Management Director General, asking the three institutions to check if the newspaper is registered for tax and if it is compliant with statutory obligations.
Honeybee who is represented by Tutwa S Ngulube Advocates stated that this was a way of gauging if the newspaper company would be able to pay any fines the courts might impose on it, to avoid a situation that occurred to The Post newspaper that was closed leaving unpaid debt.
“We have been retained by Human Rights Observers to represent them in this manner thus, note our vested interest. As per instructions from our client we are hereby requesting information from yourselves as our clients are concerned that the News Diggers Newspaper and Mr Joseph Mwenda who is the Editor-in-chief of the said newspaper have been defaming innocent citizens and these citizens have suffered damage and loss due to defamatory publications by the News Diggers Newspaper. Our clients are worried that while News Diggers Newspapers is creating several opportunities for being sued, for defamation and libel, it might not even be tax complaint such that should any judgment be obtained against it, the people who will obtain such judgement may fail to recover against them. Our clients have in mind a similar publication called The Post Newspaper which was declared bankrupt and wound-up leaving several judgments and other statutory obligations unattended to,” read the letter addressed to ZRA Commissioner for Tax.
“We therefore request that you kindly verify for us if such a publication is in fact compliant to its statutory obligations such as Value Added Tax (herein referred to as VAT), company registration, Pay as You Earn (herein referred to as PAYE) whether they are up to date with all payments, whether they have remitted the correct amounts of tax to the tax collector. We further request that you kindly avail us with a statement of their accounts showing their payments for the last 12 months. The purpose of the print out is to analyse and critically analyse the ability by the News Diggers Newspapers to settle any judgment sums that may arise against them following the several courts actions that they are likely to face in line with their defamatory remarks against Honeybee Pharmacy and many others. We humbly request that you furnish us with the above information as it is very critical and vital to our clients. Your quickest response to our letter will be highly appreciated.”
Honeybee sent similar letters to the National Pension Scheme Authority Director General and the National Health Insurance Management Director General.
Meanwhile, Honeybee gave News Diggers another 48 hour ultimatum to retract their statements and apologise.
“We make reference to the above matter and to your response to our demand letter dated 19th January 2021. We wish to state from the outset that our Law Firm is a privately owned business which has been in existence since 2013. Our managing partner Tutwa Sandani Ngulube, despite being Member of Parliament for Kabwe Central Constituency does not interfere with the duties of the Public Accounts Committee, neither is he a member of the Parliamentary Accounts Committee. Therefore we wish to firmly state that there is no conflict of interest in our law firm representing Honey Bee Pharmacy. Further, we note that instead of responding to our demand letter, you went to pose questions that are neither important nor relevant to the matter herein. To the best of our knowledge, most of the questions asked seem to be centred around our client obtaining the contract from the Ministry of Health which was never refereed in our demand letter. A great number of the questions posed by yourselves seem to be directed towards individuals that are not party to these proceedings. We further wish to state that most of your questions would be better addressed to Parliamentary Accounts Committee. Lastly in regard to your questions, take note that we represent Honey Bee Pharmacy and not its shareholders thus we do not take interest in the personal lives of the shareholders as we fully respect the vail of incorporation,” read the letter.
“We reiterate our earlier demand for an apology and retraction of all malicious statements made against our clients. We are giving you one more chance to render an apology and withdraw the false malicious and unverifiable statements contained in your articles within 48 hours of receipt of this letter failure to which we shall institute legal proceedings against yourselves claiming US$200 million for libel and slander and demand that your company be declared bankrupt. We hope you find this appropriate and avoid costly legal proceedings. Kindly respond without drawing our firm in the matter. We await your retraction.”
But reacting to the latest ultimatum in an interview, Mwenda reminded Honeybee that they were already given a green light to sue.
“We already told Honeybee that we are eager to face them in court. In fact we warned them not to chicken out, so we don’t understand why they are still giving us more ultimatums. We want to face Honeybee in court because that will be a good arena to expose the rest of the dirt in this drug supply scandal. So Honeybee must sue us, we are waiting,” he said.
Mwenda also said it would be interesting to see how the state institution which have been approached by Honeybee would execute the wish of the drug supplier.
“We are glad that Honeybee has put its intentions to close us down using state institutions in public domain. The people of Zambia who have followed the Ministry of Health drug supply scandal are watching this and they can see the threats that they are throwing at us. It’s really laughable because even assuming that we were not tax compliant, we don’t see the connection between News Diggers Pay As You Earn and Honeybee’s leaky condoms. Anyway we will wait to see how those institutions that have been approached will execute the wish of Honeybee,” said Mwenda.