Ambassador Jacqueline Zwambila (pictured right) is locked in a bitter legal battle with a freelance journalist her legal team says fabricated a story and defamed her for political reasons.
And her lawyers say the cash-strapped ambassador is propping up the embassy out of her own pocket — with the help of a confidential settlement from News Limited, who republished the claims.
The court action stems from an article published in the Herald newspaper claiming the ambassador stripped naked in front of embassy staff.
Respected lawyer Stuart Littlemore, QC, told ACT Supreme Court Chief Justice Terence Higgins on Friday that the claims were “a very grave defamation of a person in a high place.’’
But lawyers for the defendant, Panganai Reason Wafawarova, have raised the defence of truth. Littlemore said politics was at the heart of the case, and under Zimbabwe’s power-sharing agreement Mugabe’s supporters appointed embassy staff while the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party chose ambassadors.
But Wafawarova’s lawyer Steven Hausfeld, said his client simply passed on a tip to the paper and denies republishing the allegations on his personal website.
Wafawarova’s byline, however, appears on the original article. According to an affidavit to the court from Zwambila’s Canberra-based lawyer, Ben Aulich, Mugabe has not paid the ambassador’s wages in six months.
Aulich wrote his client had been forced to personally pay for diplomatic missions — partly with money secured from the News Limited pay-out. Lawyers for Wafawarova unsuccessfully tried to have the claim dropped because it had not been lodged in a Zimbabwean court.
The stripping claims were originally aired in the The Herald, and subsequently reproduced elsewhere. Hausfeld asked the judge to make an order for security of future litigation costs — estimated at about US$60 000 — because of the ambassador’s parlous finances.
Aulich’s affidavit reveals his client has very few financial assets to her name other than the trappings of her office. The chief justice rejected the costs application.
Littlemore said the defendant spent three months trying to dodge service of legal papers, forcing Aulich to apply for leave to issue them via email, but Hausfeld said his client had a right to insist on personal service.
It will probably be some time before the matter goes to a hearing. —Canberra Times