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Zimbabwe's first lady sues over WikiLeaks report

By the CNN Wire Staff
Zimbabwe's first lady Grace Mugabe, right, here with President Robert Mugabe, has sued a local newspaper.
Zimbabwe's first lady Grace Mugabe, right, here with President Robert Mugabe, has sued a local newspaper.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The cables say Grace Mugabe and others profited from illegal diamond sales
  • The Standard said the sales accelerated hyperinflation in the country
  • A journalist group voices concern about potential fallout of the suit

Harare, Zimbabwe (CNN) -- The wife of Zimbabwe's president has sued a Zimbabwean newspaper for $15 million following its publication of allegations that she was linked to and profited from illegal diamond sales in the southern African country.

According to papers filed at the High Court in Harare Wednesday, Grace Mugabe, the wife of President Robert Mugabe, is suing The Standard for defamation after its report based on diplomatic cables released by the website WikiLeaks.

The cables in question, from the U.S. Embassy in Harare, claimed that Zimbabwe's first lady was among the senior Zanu-PF and government officials who were gaining huge profits from the smuggling of diamonds in the eastern part of Zimbabwe.

"The diamonds that are sold to regime members and elites are sold for freshly printed Zimbabwean notes issued by the RBZ (Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe)," the paper quoted a 2008 cable as saying.

"The cables suggested that (the head of the bank, Gideon) Gono kept the money printing press running to finance the purchase of diamonds and this could have accelerated hyperinflation, which eventually rendered the Zimbabwe dollar worthless," the newspaper charged.

Zimbabwe's Mugabe lashes out at West

Grace Mugabe said in the suit that the report published Sunday by The Standard was "false, scandalous, malicious and bent on damaging (her) reputation."

The documents said the newspaper wrongly suggested that Grace Mugabe had "used her position as the First Lady to access diamonds clandestinely, enriching herself in circumstances in which the country was facing serious foreign currency shortages, which amounts should have been channeled to the fiscus.

"The imputation of such conduct on a person of such high standing, the mother of the nation, is to lower the respect with which she is held by all right thinking persons, to a point of disappearance," the lawsuit said.

Chris Mhike, an attorney for the newspaper, said the summons is being studied "and in due course we shall respond.

"But looking at most of the claims, so far, I can say they are just meant to harass the press," he said.

Foster Dongozi, a spokesman for the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, said the group was "concerned" about the lawsuit.

"We condemn suing newspapers for merely reproducing something which is in the public domain. It is one way of trying to frustrate access to information, and to squeeze newspapers out of existence. As a union, we are really concerned that a crackdown on journalists may resurface," he said.