By Alex Bell
SW Radio Africa
14 April 2014
An American businessman has admitted he illegally lobbied on behalf of ZANU PF for the removal of US targeted restrictive measures against the Robert Mugabe regime, and now faces a five year jail term.
72 year old Prince Asiel Ben Israel, a former cult leader now described as a “consultant” on American trade relations with Africa, pleaded guilty in a US Federal Court last week to one count of failing to register as an agent for a foreign government.
The Chicago based businessman admitted that he tried to persuade US government officials, including an Illinois state senator and two US representatives from Chicago, to push for the lifting of the targeted sanctions.
The charges against Ben Israel were brought last year by federal prosecutors, who also charged fellow Chicago businessman C. Gregory Turner, 71, in the case. Turner has pleaded not guilty and his trial is pending.
The pair has been accused of a making a financial arrangement with ZANU PF in 2008, to the tune of $3.4 million, in exchange for their US lobbying efforts.
The US Attorney’s Office in Chicago stated last year that the men met with Mugabe, then Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor Gideon Gono and other officials “multiple times” in the US and Africa, and allegedly agreed to lobby US officials on Zimbabwe’s behalf. In late 2008 the pair allegedly signed a “Consulting Agreement” that called for an initial payment of $90,000 which was paid out from a Zimbabwean official’s account in Botswana.
Political analyst Clifford Mashiri said Monday that the case has clearly exposed how money is driving calls for the removal of targeted measures against the Mugabe regime. He said such lobbying efforts, as demonstrated in the US case, indicate the likelihood of numerous “financial arrangements” being conducted on ZANU PF’s behalf.
“It is an interesting case and it is enlightening to understand what is happening behind the scenes in the lobby for the removal of these targeted measures,” Mashiri told SW Radio Africa.
The US measures against Mugabe and his inner circle remain in place since they were imposed in 2003. Unlike Europe, which has lifted almost all its targeted restrictions as part of re-engagement efforts with ZANU PF, the US has insisted that more reforms are needed in Zimbabwe before its measures are reevaluated.
Mashiri said the US case is unlikely to be an isolated one, and he questioned the motive behind the European Union (EU) decision to de-list most of the Mugabe regime. Mugabe himself and his wife Grace are the only people still targeted under the European measures.
“It is unlikely that the lifting of the EU measures was done with the best intentions. And you cannot rule out the possibility that a lot of money was spent in lobbying efforts,” Mashiri said.
The EU has been roundly criticised for its decision on the targeted sanctions, particularly after it was admitted by a top Belgian diamond official that there was active lobbying on ZANU PF’s behalf before the EU.
Antwerp World Diamond Council (AWDC) chief executive Ari Epstein told a recent Parliamentary meeting in Harare that he “made a commitment” to former Zim Mines Minister Obert Mpofu to lobby for the removal of the European restrictions, in exchange for the sale of Chiadzwa diamonds in Belgium.
“I made a commitment to the minister to help lift sanctions on Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) and I worked extremely hard to keep these promises,” said Epstein.