Federal prosecutors in the United States have pressed charges against two Chicago men who allegedly illegally lobbied Washington lawmakers to lift sanctions against President Robert Mugabe and members of his inner circle.
They were promised $3, 4 million by Harare if they succeeded.
The defendants, Prince Asiel Ben Israel and C. Gregory Turner face a maximum 20 years in prison and a million dollar fine if convicted for violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.
The two are alleged to have tried to persuade unnamed US state and federal lawmakers, including four from Illinois, to lobby against the Zimbabwe sanctions, according to charges unsealed Tuesday in the US District Court in Chicago.
According to the charges, in early November 2008, Ben Israel and Turner started discussions with Mr. Mugabe, Central Bank chief Gideon Gono and other Zanu PF leaders regarding the sanctions and the influence the two could exert on lawmakers in trying to have them removed.
he defendants told Harare they were close to people connected to then President-elect Barack Obama.
According to the court charge sheet, Turner once sent an email to President Mugabe’s chief secretary with a subject line “Christmas Gift for the President and People of Zimbabwe”.
Turner apparently forgot to attach the documents to the email sent to the secretary. The body of the email stated in part, “… Please pass on to his Excellency (Mugabe) and let him know we stand ready to come and stand by his side. (Now) I await your call as this document will be released to the International press at the recommended time.”
He also emailed another person identified in the court charge sheet as Individual D and attached a senator’s request for a Caucus resolution and several Caucus resolutions from 2003 to 2006 regarding African issues.
Turner allegedly directed Individual D to deliver the documents to ‘our cheap (xxx) Gov so he know Failure is not an option with the Chicago Mob. We will be coming to deliver the Original Resolution to H.E. (Mugabe) whos (sic) office already has scanned copy.”
In a December 2009 email, Turner stated that he was “busy doing damage control” and the resolution and the Caucus were to be used as “a pressure base on the Obama administration not to sign the Bush Act (ZEDERA) in March of 2010.”
He further explained that “Gono really let his personal ambitions override the good of his Nation”.
The charge sheet further indicates that Turner allegedly hoped to find a way to bring a state senator and Ben Israel to “make the presentation (of the resolution) to the President.
Despite these efforts, it does not appear that Turner and ben Israel were able to bring members of the Caucus to visit Zimbabwe as part of a delegation to discuss sanctions.
Mr. Mugabe’s government has been under targeted sanctions since 2003 for alleged human rights abuses. The Obama administration has maintained the so-called targeted measures that were imposed by the George Bush administration.
Prosecutors said it is not illegal for public officials to meet with sanctioned Zimbabweans, but says individuals cannot provide lobbying services to those subjected to US sanctions
Ben Ariel’s attorney, Viviana Ramirez, did not immediately return calls to her office. Assistant US Attorney and Public Information Officer Randall Samborn told VOA that he does not make out of court comments.
Mr. Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba refused to comment. But some senior government officials speaking on condition of anonymity told VOA that the case was being brought out now to tarnish President Mugabe’s image, especially after his landslide election victory last week.
The US has denounced last week’s national elections as deeply flawed.
International relations expert Clifford Mashiri said the allegations are embarrassing for Mr. Mugabe.