Two Chicago men have been charged with illegally lobbying U.S. lawmakers on behalf of longtime Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe in exchange for $3.4 million, the Associated Press reports.
The complaint unsealed Tuesday in Chicago’s U.S. District Court alleges that 33-year President Mugabe and other Zimbabwe officials enlisted Prince Asiel Ben Israel, 72, and C. Gregory Turner, 71, to lobby unnamed U.S. state and federal lawmakers and urge them to oppose sanctions against the leaders of the southern African in return for the payments.
Western governments have imposed sanctions on Mugabe’s government since 2003 for alleged democratic violations, including the arbitrary detention and beating of opposition leaders. Federal prosecutors said it is illegal to lobby for foreign government leaders subject to sanctions.
A member of President Barack Obama’s transition team raised concerns with the FBI about overseas meetings between the lobbyists and Illinois state lawmakers in 2008, according to the complaint:
The defendants allegedly arranged for Ben Israel to travel to South Africa with two Illinois lawmakers – referred to as "Illinois State Senator A" and "Illinois State Representative A" in the complaint – in early December 2008. Travel records show the two lawmakers traveled to Israel, but did not return as scheduled and extended their overseas stay, the complaint states.
Three days after the lawmakers' return in mid-December, a scheduler for President-elect Obama's transition team sent an email to another transition team member stating that State Representative A "wants a phone call from (transition team officials) regarding a meeting he had last week in Zimbabwe. I am not sure who to pass this on to but it's the second time they have called."
The transition team forwarded the email to the FBI based on its concerns that the state representative may have violated sanctions by traveling to Zimbabwe, according to the complaint.
The charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. No lawmakers have been charged, though the investigation is ongoing.
Mugabe won re-election resoundingly last week, but opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai declared the election a "farce" after widespread reports of voter fraud.
Published under: Crime Blotter