President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe allegedly hired two Chicago men to lobby U.S. officials to lift economic sanctions against him in violation of federal law, according to a criminal complaint unsealed today.
In exchange for those services rendered in 2008 and 2009, the men were to be paid $3.4 million, acting Chicago U.S. Attorney Gary S. Shapiro said in a statement issued today.
While Mugabe wasn’t charged, Prince Asiel Ben Israel, 72, and C. Gregory Turner, 71, were accused of violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. Ben Israel appeared today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys in Chicago, who released him on $4,500 bond. A warrant has been issued for Turner’s arrest.
“Ben Israel and Turner allegedly agreed to engage in public relations, political consulting and lobbying to have sanctions removed by meeting with and attempting to persuade U.S. federal and state government officials” to oppose them, Shapiro said.
Mugabe has led the southern African nation since 1980 and was re-elected last week. Challenger Morgan Tsvangirai, who was credited with winning 34 percent of the July 31 vote, has disputed the result. The U.S. has called the election “deeply flawed.”
Sanctions against Mugabe and other Zimbabweans were imposed in 2003 by U.S. President George W. Bush, a Republican, and were continued under President Barack Obama, a Democrat.
While the sanctions do not ban travel to the nation or prohibit public officials from meeting with “specially designated nationals,” they do prohibit lobbying, public relations and media consulting services for the Zimbabweans.
Ben Israel and Turner in November 2008 allegedly discussed with Mugabe, Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe President Gideon Gono and others Zimbabwean officials “their association with many public officials who purportedly had close connections with then-President Elect Barack Obama.”
Their lobbying effort included arranging for an unidentified Illinois state senator to meet with Mugabe and for the Zimbabwean leader to meet with unidentified federal and state government officials in New York, according to the complaint. The men also lobbied three members of Congress, including two who represented Chicago districts, according to the complaint.
Violation of the statutory scheme known as the IEEPA is punishable by as long as 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The complaint against Ben Israel and Brown was filed last month.
Ben Israel’s attorney, Viviana Ramirez, declined to comment after the hearing.
The case is U.S. v. Ben Israel, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).