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Zimbabwe first lady sues paper over diamonds story

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ANGUS SHAW | December 16, 2010 08:38 AM EST | AP

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HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe's first lady has filed a $15 million lawsuit against a popular independent newspaper after they published a story citing WikiLeaks cables alleging her involvement in illegal diamond deals, the paper's chief said Thursday.

Raphael Khumalo, chief executive at the Zimbabwe Standard, a Sunday weekly, said court documents were served by lawyers representing President Robert Mugabe's wife, Grace.

The newspaper has faced several lawsuits over its reporting. Its editor was arrested last month over reports relating to military recruitment.

In a WikiLeaks cable dated 2008, former U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee says Grace Mugabe and Gideon Gono, the governor of the state central bank, "reaped tremendous profits" from corruption and violence-plagued diamond fields in eastern Zimbabwe. The newspaper ran its story on Dec. 12.

Mugabe's submissions to the High Court in Harare posted Wednesday said the president's wife described McGee's remarks as being "false, scandalous, malicious, wrongful and defamatory."

McGee implied she was complicit in human rights violations and crimes two years before the world diamond control body authorized limited international sales of Zimbabwe's alluvial diamonds in the deposits discovered in 2006.

She questioned why only she and Gono were named as being involved in illicit diamond deals by McGee, who left Zimbabwe in 2009. She said in court documents that the newspaper's reporting is likely to be accepted without question by its readers, most of whom oppose her husband and his ZANU-PF party.

"The newspaper is taken seriously and carries considerable weight," she said.

She added that the newspaper has a wide readership that includes online readers abroad who are educated, well-informed and influential.

The newspaper's representatives did not say how they intended to handle the lawsuit.

Zimbabwe's diamond sales are still mired in disputes with the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme over mining activities that the world control body says have met minimum international standards but must be improved before further sales are permitted.

Grace Mugabe, 45, married the president, 86, a decade ago. She said the newspaper's story damaged her reputation as "mother of the nation."

Grace Mugabe has three children with the elderly president. Reports of her lavish, extravagant lifestyle have prompted the president's opponents to dub her "Disgrace."