Controversy As Govt Shields Sata's Embassy From Creditor

Econet recently reported the Zambian embassy  to the government for breaching diplomatic etiquette by failing to settle a telecommunication services bill amounting to $6 597.10. Econet, which
is now resorting to litigation to recover huge debts owed by defaulting customers, petitioned the Ministry of Foreign Affairs seeking to recover the bill owed by the Zambian embassy.

This follows the Zambian embassy’s failure to pay the telecommunications bill since 2010 despite being ordered to settle the debt by the high court.

But in response to the telecoms operator’s request for assistance to recoup its debt, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned Econet that their debtor is protected by diplomatic immunity, which forbids the seizure of the embassy’s assets.

“Please be advised that the embassy (chancery) enjoys absolute immunity and attaching its property in execution of a judgment order is in breach of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic relations (1961). The ministry urges the interested parties to seek a resolution following diplomatic channels,” reads part of a letter written to Econet’s lawyers Mtetwa and Nyambirai Legal Practitioners by a representative of Joey Bimha, the ministry’s permanent secretary only identified as V Chikomba.

The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic relations of 1961 is an international treaty that defines a framework for diplomatic relations between independent countries. It specifies the privileges of a
diplomatic mission that enable diplomats to perform their function without fear of coercion or harassment by the host country and this forms the legal basis for diplomatic immunity.

Last week Zambian President Michael Sata branded Movement for Democratic Change leader and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai a “stooge” and vowed that the former opposition leader who trounced Zanu (PF) PF leader President Robert Mugabe in the 2008 presidential elections will not stop the former freedom fighter from holding elections this year.

However, Econet’s lawyers maintain that the Zambian embassy does not enjoy absolute immunity as the debt arose from a commercial transaction.

“The claim by Econet is neither a threat to the dignity of the government of Zambia nor an interference with the government’s sovereign function. It is the high court’s position that both the governments of Zambia and Angola should honour their obligations just like other individuals who have entered into similar agreements with Econet. As you have indicated that the deputy sheriff is not allowed to make an attachment, please assist us recover these debts using your
diplomatic channels,” said the lawyers.

Besides, Zambia, Econet has also hauled to court the Sudanese and Angolan embassy to court seeking to recover debts. Prominent personalities such as Chiefs’ Council president, Fortune Charumbira
and top Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe official Millicent Mombeshora have also been dragged to court by Econet over telecommunication debts which were mainly accrued during the height of the country’s agonising economic crisis.