Mugabe, Gono paid $3,4m to US lobbyists

President Robert Mugabe and former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor Gideon Gono have been named in US federal court criminal records as having participated in an illegal move to lobby President Barack Obama to lift targeted measures against them.

Obama
Obama

In 2008 they agreed to pay $3.4 million to two prominent African Americans to press US legislators to persuade Obama to remove the restrictive measures imposed on Mugabe and a list of his senior officials in 2003 for human rights abuses.

The other members of the Zimbabwean team involved have so far not been disclosed by the Chicago district court. While Mugabe and his government have been involved in several campaigns to have the restrictive measures lifted, this is the first time reports have indicated that they used illegal means to do so.

Chicago Connection

The Mugabe government, smarting under an acute economic crisis, offered the two Americans, named as Prince Asiel Ben Israel (72) and Gregory Turner (71), $3.4 million to push lawmakers to talk Obama—who had just been elected as the first black US president—out of the restrictive measures.

The payment arrangement included a down payment of $90,000, and three subsequent instalments of $1,1 million apiece – but court papers do not mention if any money was ever paid to the lobbyists.

The charges say Ben Israel and Turner, who call themselves the “Chicago Connection”, engaged in public relations, political consultancy and lobbying efforts. On November 26 2008 they signed a “consulting agreement” with the Mugabe government that was desperate for the removal of the travel and business restrictions.

It is not clear where the government would find the money, considering that it was virtually broke, but the RBZ has been hauled before local courts for illegally raiding private foreign currency accounts to fund Zanu (PF) programmes during the peak of the economic crisis.

Mugabe met consultants

The district court records acknowledge that Mugabe met with the US “consultants” in 2009 in that country, implying that the president might have breached the diplomatic moratoriums he enjoyed to travel to the US for official UN business to engage in business with the lobbyists.

Ben Israel has already pleaded guilty to illegally lobbying for the removal of the measures, which remain in place to date, and an arrest warrant has been issued for Turner, who is believed to be currently residing in Israel.

$1 million fine

Ben Israel appeared in court two Tuesdays ago, after the case was opened with the help of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) the previous weekend. He claims to be a proponent of the reconstruction of post-colonial Africa. He has worked in Africa for some 30 years as a special consultant to a number of political leaders and organisations.

The two defendants are alleged in the court papers to have violated the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, a violation which attracts a maximum 20 year custodial sentence and a $1 million fine.

The law prohibits US citizens from doing business with individuals or companies on the country’s blacklist. The charge sheet also names two lawmakers, who are mentioned as “Illinois State Senior A” and “Illinois State Representative A”, as part of the deal but they have not yet been charged pending further investigations.

While the two legislators have not been directly named, they could be Danny K. Davis and Bobby L. Rush who were the only Illinois Democrats who backed an unsuccessful 2010 resolution to lift restrictive measures against Zimbabwe.

Thank you letter

They are alleged to have travelled to South Africa in December 2008 for more meetings with Zimbabwean government representatives and there is a possibility that they could have also visited Zimbabwe on lobby business in violation of US law.

According to the 56-page court affidavit, one of the lawmakers sent a letter on an official Congressional letterhead to Mugabe in August 2009 asking for a meeting after talks with Ben Israel and, on October 17 of the same year wrote again thanking him for “the most positive and productive meeting in New York” and confirmed dates to travel to Zimbabwe for more meetings.

“Know that I am fully committed to working toward the removal of the sanctions placed on Zimbabwe,” wrote the legislator, who appears to be Davis.

Rush has denied travelling to South Africa or Zimbabwe, even though he admits that he had made initial plans to go to the former but failed because of a sudden illness.

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