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Court dismisses Sattar media gag attempt

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Judge Tembo

By Deogratias Mmana:

The High Court sitting in Blantyre has thrown out an application by businesspersons Zuneth Sattar and Ashok Nair to stop Times Group-affiliated Blantyre Newspapers Limited (BNL) and Nation Publications Limited newspapers from publishing any story touching on the search and seizure warrant that the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) executed on them.

Sattar and Nair applied to the court without notice for an interlocutory injunction to stop the two media houses from publishing any stories about the ACB’s search and seizure warrant, arguing that doing so would potentially defame them to unestablished levels since the graft-busting body was still investigating them.

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According to the court order, dated November 18 2021 and signed by Judge Michael Tembo, the ACB went to the claimants’ offices, Ocean Industries, on October 5 2021, with a warrant of access, search and seizure which was obtained before the Chief Resident Magistrate Court in Lilongwe.

The warrant was meant to enable ACB to access evidence that had to do with Xelite Stripes Ltd, Xavier and Mallachite FZE companies following allegations that the claimants obtained contracts from the Malawi Police Service and Malawi Defence Force using these companies by bribing politically exposed persons.

The court order says Sattar is also being investigated in respect of the same allegations in the United Kingdom, where he resides.

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Lawyer for the two, Chikondi Chamkakala, made an application before the Chief Resident Magistrate Court to have the search and seizure warrant set aside but the application was dismissed and the court gave the ACB authority to deal with the seized items as part of their investigations into a matter it deems fit.

The claimants argue that the publication of any story touching on the allegations at hand before the ACB has completed its investigations may be prejudiced to the investigations “and end up being defamatory of the claimants”.

But the High Court has dismissed the application for the injunction.

“In the foregoing circumstances, the application for an injunction made by the claimants without notice to the defendants is accordingly declined,” the order reads.

One lawyer told The Daily Times that a gag order of the type that Sattar sought is a judicial ruling barring public disclosure or discussion by the press of information related to a case, further describing it as a super-injunction.

The legal mind added that the party seeking the gag order is not named and the very discussion about the existence and merits of the injunction is prohibited.

“A person that seeks a gag order mostly applies to the court for such an order without informing the other parties who are the target of the gag order. This is because the targeted parties would likely challenge the application and argue against its grant. In addition, the contestation attracts public attention that the applicant sought to avert.

“The effectiveness of injunctions of this type is doubtful due to the multiplicity of ways with which they could be defied. In other jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom, members of Parliament have used parliamentary privilege to bring out information that was the subject of a gagging order,” he said.

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