Johannesburg - Prominent businessman Zunaid Moti has slammed the reporting of “The Sentry” in collaboration with Amabhungane as "unethical, unprofessional, and even illegal“, stating that their journalists relied on stolen documents from known criminals with an apparent vendetta.
The US-based investigative journalism organisation “The Sentry”, in partnership with South Africa’s Amabhungane, recently published a report involving economic crime allegations against Moti.
The reports concerned his dealings with African Chrome Fields, a chrome-mining operation based in Zimbabwe, accusing the company of wielding undue political influence.
However, the founder of Moti Group notes that the report was based on a highly suspicious batch of stolen documents fed to the media by a former employee with criminal connections.
Moti argued that he was not allowed the opportunity to authenticate these documents or check whether they had been edited or forged.
A known digital forensic firm confirmed that more than 4 000 confidential documents had been stolen by an ex-employee (known to “The Star“) last year, which were then provided to third parties in litigation against the Moti Group.
Moti said these documents were then leaked to various criminal associates and media houses.
"Criminal charges have been laid against the ex-employee for the theft of the documents in both Zimbabwe and South Africa, and the investigation is ongoing.
"After receiving an extensive list of questions from “The Sentry” related to the documents, Moti’s legal counsel warned the journalists that these documents were stolen and, as 'fruits of the poisonous tree,' should not be relied upon for information," he said.
However, despite repeated requests, Moti said the journalists refused to share any documents for verification in case they had been edited or forged, which he said denied his legal counsel the opportunity to reply to or rebut their source material.
"These publications seem intent on using these documents as the basis for their story, demonstrating that their false narrative was predetermined and could not be altered no matter what answers or contradictory evidence we provided. This behaviour is most untoward and concerning for supposed professional investigative journalists, especially given their duty to fair and balanced reporting. It makes me wonder if they are, in fact, captured, as they seem adamant about only advancing one side of their story.
"Their articles were produced without a shred of real evidence or proof to back their claims, damaging my reputation and ACF’s standing in the interests of producing a sensationalist ‘click-bait’ story rather than for public interest," Moti said.
Moti emphasised that the company complies with all relevant regulations, despite Amabhungane’s series of wide-ranging and often contradictory allegations concerning him and ACF’s influence in Zimbabwe.
"African Chrome Fields has not received any preferential treatment or benefits outside the ordinary course of business or concessions that are not comparable to other investors in the region.
"All such concessions were obtained through the proper channels in accordance with all relevant regulations, and while some were granted, many were not. This further refutes any claims of special favours, a notion I reject with the contempt it deserves," he said.
Moti has challenged the journalists involved to back their claims with evidence.
"If they believe that they have established the facts, I invite them to show us the evidence and allow us the proper time to investigate the allegations and respond.
"We have no wish to silence or otherwise impede the media, and in fact, we have answered every query. Having said this, the media should be held to a standard of fair, balanced, and non-biased reporting if they expect the public to have confidence in their ability to report the news," said Moti.
He further said that they had tasked their legal team to look into the matter.
"Amabhungane are in possession of stolen information, which we believe was illegally obtained by hacking into our server. This is a gross violation of our privacy as a company. Our lawyers are busy exploring all available legal channels against Amabhungane. This flies against all tenets of ethical journalism," said Moti.
Amabhungane was contacted for a comment after Moti lambasted their reporting ethics; in response, they said they got their facts correct.
"I think the story speaks for itself. Moti’s version was canvassed in detail and reflected in the story, as well as being carried in full via link," said Amabhungane spokesperson Sam Sole.