Zimbabwe: Biti's Bid to Block Us$1m Suit Fails

Jerry Chifamba/allAfrica

31 AUGUST 2021

The Herald (Harare)

By Fidelis Munyoro

MDC-Alliance vice president Tendai Biti's motion to block a US$1 million defamation suit against him and his political party for insulting a Russian national, Ms Tatiana Alishen, was thrown out by the High Court.

Ms Alishen issued summons against Mr Biti accusing him and the MDC Alliance of insulting her and defaming Augur Investments - a company she has interests in - after tweeting that it was corrupt.

Augur Investments, Ms Alishen, the company director and its owner Mr Ken Raydon Sharpe, are listed as plaintiffs' while Biti and MDC-Alliance are cited as defendants in the suit.

As a result of the statements, the company seeks damages against Biti and his party arguing that the politician made defamatory statements that caused reputational damage to the natural and juristic persons of the plaintiffs.

Biti denies the allegations and raised an exception to the summons and a special plea to bar Augur Investments audience to contend the defamation claims of the plaintiffs.

The special plea related to the question of payment of security for costs and whether a corporation could be defamed.

Augur Investments is a foreign company at law and when foreign companies sue in this jurisdiction, they are required to pay security for costs at the High Court.

Biti argued that Augur Investments had failed to pay security for costs hence it has no right to the jurisdiction of the High Court here and its claim, therefore, should be thrown out.

The basis for Biti's exception to the summons was anchored on two grounds that the claim was defective and that there was no link between Ms Alishen and Mr Sharpe, with the statements complained of.

In counter-argument, Augur Investments submitted that failure to pay costs for security could not be used to defeat their claim.

The company averred that the question of security for costs was one borne out of practice, as such Mr Biti should have demanded such costs from them.

And in the event that the parties failed to agree, Biti should have approached the court demanding payment of the costs. The court, argued the company through its legal counsel, would then decide the matter, hence it need not to come as a special plea.

The company also argued that the exception, which Biti sought was unfounded and could not stand in this matter.

However, Justice Jacob Manzunzu dismissed the special plea and exception by Biti finding that an artificial person can sue for damages and hence Augur Investments was legally correct in suing Biti and MDC-A.

Ultimately, the judge dismissed as having no merit, the point which Biti had raised that a corporate cannot be defamed.

"I can do more than agree with the plaintiffs . . . the action against the first defendant (Biti) is based on two articles as shown . . ." said Justice Manzunzu.

"The second defendant (MDC-A) is partly based on the repetition of the articles by the first defendant and secondly an article with specific reference to the involvement of second plaintiff (Ms Alishen) in the alleged corruption.

An online news organisation, NewsHawks, which was also sued, had the claim against it cancelled as they apologised and rectified their mistake. 



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