Zim mobile firm wants to grab Zambian mission property due to mobile phone bills

A US$6,600 phone bill accrued by the Zambian embassy in Harare has triggered a diplomatic incident.

Lawyers for mobile phone company Econet Wireless have advised Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs Ministry they intend to seek a forfeiture order against the embassy.

Econet is also starting proceedings against the Angolan and Sudanese embassies over unpaid bills.

But the ministry, in a written response, advised the phone company the matter could only be resolved through “diplomatic channels”.

The ministry added: “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.”

Article 22 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations provides that “the premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of the mission.”

It adds: “The receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity.

“The premises of the mission, their furnishings and other property thereon and the means of transport of the mission shall be immune from search, requisition, attachment or execution.”

Article 30 extends this provision to the private residence of the diplomats.

Econet’s lawyers, Mtetwa and Nyambirai Legal Practitioners, however insist the ministry is misdirected in its reading of the Vienna Convention.

“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,” the company said.

But in the clearest indication that it would not pursue a confiscation order, Econet asked the Zimbabwe government to step in and secure payment of the outstanding bills.

“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.

NEW ZIMBABWE

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