updated 12/6/2007 9:36:44 PM ET 2007-12-07T02:36:44

A Zimbabwe tourism promoter faces up to a year in jail for using a 10-cent Zimbabwe bank note — not enough to buy a matchstick — as a business card at a tourism fair in London.

Denis Paul, 41, is accused of insulting behavior for stamping his telephone number and business information on the note, which has virtually disappeared from circulation in Zimbabwe because it cost too much to print. He faces charges under central bank laws on defacing currency and tourism regulations carrying a maximum penalty of a fine, a year in prison, or both.

Ten Zimbabwe cents buys nothing in a nation suffering the world’s highest inflation. A regular pack of sugar costs nearly 3 million Zimbabwe dollars. A single matchstick costs 3,000 Zimbabwe dollars.

Prosecutors allege Paul “discouraged foreign tour operators from coming to Zimbabwe while claiming the country’s currency was so useless it was only fit to be used as business cards,” the official media reported Thursday. Other Zimbabweans at the fair reportedly complained that Paul’s use of the notes harmed their efforts “to promote Zimbabwe as a key African destination.”

The Herald newspaper said Paul, who was arrested on his return from a tourism fair in Britain, was interrogated by officials of the state Zimbabwe Tourism Authority on Wednesday and told them he stamped the 10-cent bills “without thinking clearly of the implications.”

“It was not my intention to demonize the country and I gave them only to people I knew,” he said, according to the government-run newspaper.

Ten-cent and single-cent notes were released in August 2006. The light red bills immediately became obsolete in the nation’s economic meltdown.

More expensive to print than to use
Banks said the cost of printing the cent notes by far exceeded the face value and they soon were little more than a curiosity for currency collectors.

Coins disappeared in the hyperinflationary economy at least three years ago.

The official inflation rate for September was about 8,000 percent, the highest in the world, but independent estimates in the past week of massive price increases put it closer to 90,000 percent. The International Monetary Fund forecast inflation reaching 100,000 percent by the end of the year.

The nation is suffering acute shortages of hard currency, food, gasoline, medicine and most basic goods amid worsening daily power and water outages.

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