Telecel Zim turns to High Court

TELECELZvamaida Murwira and Fidelis Munyoro
TELECEL Zimbabwe Limited has embarked on a forum-shopping campaign in a bid to have its operating licence reinstated by approaching the High Court, seven days after moving to internationalise its dispute with the Government by approaching international jurisdictions.

The firm’s British lawyers — Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher LLP — on April 29, wrote a letter to Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa threatening to take the matter before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes if it was not resolved amicably within six months.

The letter was copied to President Mugabe; Youth Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment Minister Christopher Mushohwe; Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services Minister Supa Mandiwanzira and Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe acting director general Mr Baxton Sirewu.

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Amid accusations of trying to subvert the local justice system, the mobile phone service provider on Tuesday approached the High Court seeking an interdict against Potraz’s order directing it to cease operations, Parliament heard yesterday.

Minister Mandiwanzira said Telecel’s decision to go to court was meant to allow it to launch an appeal against Potraz with him as the responsible minister.

He said this in the National Assembly while responding to a question from Hurungwe Central MP Cde Godfrey Beremauro (Zanu-PF) who wanted an update on the saga.

Minister Mandiwanzira said since the matter was now before the courts, he could not comment substantively on the issue.

“Telecel has taken the matter to the High Court seeking an interdict against the implementation of the order pending an appeal to the minister. At the moment I am gagged,” said Minister Mandiwanzira.

He said in determining the case, he would be guided by the provisions of the enabling legal statutes.

“While we would not want to speculate on the outcome of their court case, we will take into account the law of the country.”

Telecel filed its application on Tuesday under a certificate of urgency.

Justice Nicholas Mathonsi is expected to hear the application today.

Sources at the High Court confirmed that the matter had been set down for hearing today.

“Telecel is seeking reinstatement of its permit to continue operating,” said the source, who could not give finer details of the application because the matter is sub-judice.

Potraz, which is cited as a respondent in the case, had not filed its opposing papers by close of business yesterday.

Potraz last week directed Telecel to cease operations after the regulatory authority cancelled its operating licence for breaching the country’s investment laws.

Under the Postal and Telecommunications Act, the company can appeal to the minister within 30 days of the cancellation of the licence and can also approach the courts if it is not satisfied with the outcome of that appeal.

TZL has since 2002 been in breach of the Postal and Telecommunications Act that requires all companies in the telecommunications sector to be majority owned by indigenous Zimbabweans.

Currently, the company is majority owned (60 percent) by Telecel International while its local partner, Empowerment Corporation, holds a 40 percent stake.

Telecel International is owned 100 percent by Global Telecom, which is majority owned by VimpelCom.

VimpelCom is headquartered in the Netherlands.

Telecel Zimbabwe Ltd had since 2002 been given time to rectify its shareholding structure so that it complies with local laws but failed.

This resulted in the initial cancellation of its operating licence in 2007 and was only restored after it promised to address the issue by the time it renewed its licence in 2013.

However, the company has since 2013 failed to rectify the shareholding anomaly resulting in the latest cancellation of the contract.

In its letter on April 29, Telecel Zimbabwe Ltd accused Government of breaching protections guaranteed under bilateral agreements.

On Tuesday Minister Mandiwanzira met VimpelCom directors to discuss the Telecel issue, but he declined to provide details of the meeting when contacted yesterday.

Mr Antony Kudryashov, Global Telecoms chairman and its managing director Mr Vincenzo Nesci, were among the directors who attended the Tuesday meeting.

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