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Envoys dragged into Vodacom fixer row

Lloyd Gedye

Lawyers say that the cellular giant Vodacom has been trying to pull strings and avoid adhering to the Democratic Republic of Congo's laws.

Vodacom stands accused of using political and diplomatic pressure in its battle with a fixer who recently won a case against it in a Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) court, which ordered the company to pay him $21-million.

A lawyer representing Moto Mabanga, the South African-based fixer, has sent a letter to the general inspectorate of judicial council services in Kinshasa and the United Kingdom’s ambassador in the DRC stating that Vodacom is trying to place itself above the laws of the country.

His letter followed one sent by Vodacom to the inspectorate that was copied to the South African and British ambassadors in the Congo.

One of Mabanga’s lawyers, José Ilunga Kapanda, wrote to the inspectorate on April 4 this year stating that the body did not have the jurisdiction to prevent the execution of the judgment. Kapanda stated that he did not understand why Vodacom International copied its request for the suspension of the execution of the judgment to the British ambassador.

Diplomatic pressure?
Kapanda said everybody was equal before the law, including foreigners. He accused Vodacom of trying to use diplomatic pressure to put itself above the law.

Another of Mabanga’s lawyers, Emery Mukendi Wafwana, stated in another letter to the British ambassador that the latter should not interfere in the matter. He said the UK was a partner with the DRC in establishing an investment climate in the country and it should not interfere, unless it believed the DRC could interfere in legal disputes in the UK.

“To act other­wise would be to lead the United Kingdom into a great conflict in the engagements it has reached with the Democratic Republic of Congo,” Wafwana stated.

The Mail & Guardian reported on the dispute between Mabanga’s company, Namemco Energy, and Vodacom in August 2010. At the time, Mabanga, who acted as a consultant in the Congo for Vodacom, was suing the mobile conglomerate for R396-million in the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg. The amount was allegedly for work done between May 6 and July 31 2007 and between September 12 2007 and August 31 2008. The case was withdrawn and filed in Kinshasa.

Vodacom’s spokesperson, Richard Boorman, said it was ironic, given the string of extraordinary legal activity in the Congo, that Vodacom was being accused of using underhanded tactics to defend its business.

“There is zero legal justification for Mr Mabanga’s contractual claim and we challenge him to provide one shred of evidence to support it. We keep in regular touch with officials and embassies in all of the countries in which we operate.

“Both South African and the UK companies are major investors in the DRC and it’s a common-sense step to keep officials apprised of a situation that is already tarnishing the reputation of the DRC and has the potential to jeopardise further investment from both countries,” said Boorman.

“I would like to say very clearly that Vodacom honours its commitments. If Mr Mabanga could in any way justify his claim, why is he not doing so in South Africa, where the agreements were made and which he explicitly agreed would have contractual jurisdiction?

“The act of sending letters to diplomats in the DRC instructing them how to behave demonstrates a concern that Vodacom’s position is valid and that common sense will prevail.”


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