Econet Wireless has sued Kenyan Information Minister Raphael Tuju for Sh79 billion for alleged defamation.The mobile phone provider has sued the minister together with three of its partners, Econet Wireless International, Econet Wireless Ventures and Econet Wireless Global. They are seeking over USDF989 million in damages.

Econet Wireless International is incorporated under the laws of Bermuda, Econet Wireless Ventures in British Virgin Islands and Econet Wireless Global in Botswana.The companies want the amount from Tuju for alleged injury to the trademark "Econet Wireless" causing them loss of business.In the suit filed by lawyer Njoroge Regeru, the companies want another Sh73 million from Tuju for "malicious falsehoods" against it.

They seek the amount in respect of "the actual and irrevocable commitments made in respect of the licence (for the third mobile phone operator)". Econet demands a further Sh916,180,00 for newspaper advertisements to mitigate the alleged damage to its reputation. Additionally, the companies want Tuju ordered to pay them general and aggravated damages with interest.

The suit arises from a ministerial statement that Tuju issued in Parliament and which Econet says was defamatory and contained unsubstantiated malicious allegations. Econet, whose chief executive officer is Strive Masiyiwa, says the ministerial statement was understood to mean it was fraudulent, unscrupulous and engaged in sleazy dealings in New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Kenya.

It says the statements meant that the four plaintiffs engaged in fraudulent dealings enriching themselves at the cost of the countries in which they operated. Further, it says the statement portrayed the plaintiffs as not credible business entities, which were unable to meet shareholding obligations with their partners. It also allegedly portrayed one of its proprietors, who is the founder of the organisation, as a wanted criminal.

The statement, it says, implied that the company obtained its licence in questionable circumstances and that their bid for it was below market value. In the suit, Econet says Tuju implied that the company did not have a licence while in fact it had one that was issued by the Communications Commission of Kenya on November 10, 2004. Econet says it had been allocated frequencies and that it has paid USD15 million (Sh1.2 billion) for the licence and a promissory note accepted by CCK. The companies now want a permanent injunction restraining Tuju from publishing the defamatory material. It also wants Tuju jailed for allegedly contravening a court order.