/ 3 June 2023

Amabhungane overturns part of Moti secret court order, but gag remains

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Zunaid Moti. File photo

A secret court order obtained by the Moti Group requiring the renowned non-profit investigative journalism unit Amabhungane to return thousands of company documents by Saturday evening – which allegedly link the Moti Group to a raft of improper relationships with Zimbabwe’s ruling elite – has been over-turned.

A new revised order, reached by agreement, requires the document trove to be preserved until the matter is heard in the Johannesburg High Court for argument.

The second part of the Moti Group’s secret order still stands, barring the journalism organisation from publishing any articles based on the documents, until October.

In a statement released on Saturday, Amabhungane welcomed the revised order, saying it undid “the worst aspects of the order”, which was obtained by the Moti Group on Thursday.

“The urgent court judge said the order previously issued in our absence by Judge John Holland-Muter should never have been granted. Today’s variation of that order, reached by agreement, means that Amabhungane will no longer be required to hand over documents in its possession, which the Moti Group claims belong to them and are stolen documents,” read the statement.

Amabhungane said they had been “seriously concerned about the damage to source protection” as a result of a handover.

“On Friday morning already we had made an offer to preserve the documents pending the proper ventilation of the matter in court. This was rejected by the Moti Group. The variation order effectively implements the offer we made yesterday – which we made to ensure we would not have to hand over documents tonight, as required by the court order.”

“While we are disappointed that the gag order issued against us – unjustifiably and abusively in our view – remains in place for now, we will fight this in due course and believe today’s variation was necessary to protect our sources.”

The order was obtained on an urgent basis, in camera and ex parte, meaning Amabhungane was unable to provide argument against the order.

The Moti Group is owned by Zunaid Moti, a controversial business figure with a colourful past.

In April, Amabhungane started publishing a series of articles exposing Moti’s alleged ties to the ruling elite of Zimbabwe, linking Moti to kickbacks to various leaders of Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF and members of government.

The Moti Group is a conglomerate with a diverse international portfolio including mining, property development and aviation.

The non-profit investigative journalism unit claims the documents reveal that Moti has enjoyed a close personal relationship with Zimbabwe president Emmerson Mnangagwa, and vice president General Constantine Chiwenga. Moti has allegedly repeatedly leaned on them when he needed help in business and personal matters.

Moti is on record rejecting any suggestion that he or the Moti Group’s major chrome mining venture in Zimbabwe, African Chrome Fields (ACF), received undue or improper benefits because of his relationship with Zimbabwean politicians. He also denied that he, ACF or the Moti Group were involved in any form of capture of the Zimbabwean state, and claimed ACF conducts itself like any other international investor in that country.

The documents the Moti Group want returned were allegedly downloaded towards the end of 2022 by a former employee, Clinton van Niekerk, before he resigned from the company. The Moti Group claims the documents were “stolen” and that there is an ongoing SAPS investigation into Van Niekerk.