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Zimbabwe's Largest Cell Phone Company May Lose License - 2003-12-29

Zimbabwe's state controlled media says the government is planning to withdraw the operating license of the largest cellular telephone operator, accusing the company of subversive activities." The majority shareholder of the Econet cellular network is also the chairman of the company which owns Zimbabwe's Daily News, the only independent daily newspaper in Zimbabwe.

The government-controlled Herald newspaper, quoting unnamed sources, reported on Christmas that Econet has broken the law by failing to remit foreign currency earnings from incoming international telephone calls.

It said Econet's profits were being used to finance subversive activities to undermine the Zimbabwe government. One of the so-called subversive activities identified by The Herald was the publication of one edition of The Daily News in Nigeria, during the summit of Commonwealth countries, from which Zimbabwe is suspended.

The newspaper was printed by a prominent Nigerian daily newspaper, This Day, and carried reports critical of President Robert Mugabe's rule.

Econet was founded in 1998, after its chief executive officer, Strive Masiyiwa, won a four-year court battle to win a license. Since then Mr. Masiyiwa has expanded his investment in cellular networks in several other countries, including Nigeria.

When the Daily News ran into financial trouble last year, Mr. Masiyiwa baled it out, and became its largest shareholder. The Daily News has been a frequent critic of President Robert Mugabe's government, exposing its many human rights abuses.

It also published articles exposing serious irregularities in the presidential elections in March 2003, which gave Mr. Mugabe a further six years in power.

The Daily News was closed down for operating without a license, but appealed, and shortly before Christmas, the courts gave it permission to resume publication. But police have prevented workers from producing the newspaper.

Mr. Masiyiwa, who now lives in South Africa said Monday he did not believe there was a government probe into the Econet network. He said his company operated fully within the law.