Two Chicago Men Accused Of Violating U.S. Sanctions By Providing Services To Zimbabwean Officials, Including President Mugabe
CHICAGO — Federal charges were unsealed today against two Chicago men for allegedly violating U.S. sanctions in late 2008 and 2009 by agreeing to assist Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and others in an effort to lift economic sanctions against them in exchange for $3.4 million. The defendants, PRINCE ASIEL BEN ISRAEL and C. GREGORY TURNER, allegedly met multiple times in the United States and in Africa with Zimbabwean government officials, including President Mugabe and Gideon Gono, governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, who were individually subject to U.S. sanctions. During these meetings, 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, including Illinois members of Congress and state legislators, to oppose the sanctions.
The sanctions against President Mugabe and other specially designated individuals in Zimbabwe were initially imposed in 2003 by President George W. Bush, and have been continued annually by President Obama, starting in March 2009, through the most recent 2 extension in March 2013. President Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF party have governed Zimbabwe since its independence in 1980. President Mugabe uses funds from Zimbabwe’s industries, particularly the diamond trade, to enrich himself and his family and to purchase the loyalty of subordinates, according to reports cited in the charges. The sanctions neither bar travel to Zimbabwe nor prohibit public officials from meeting with specially designated nationals to discuss removing the sanctions, but individuals may not provide lobbying, public relations, and media consulting services on behalf of or for the benefit of specially designated nationals.
Ben Israel, 72, appeared today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys in U.S. District Court in Chicago, and was released on his own recognizance with certain conditions. Turner, 71, also known as “Greg Turner,” of Chicago, is believed to be living in Israel and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Both defendants were charged with violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) in a criminal complaint filed last month and unsealed today.
The arrest and charges were announced by Gary S. Shapiro, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; John Carlin, Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security; Cory B. Nelson, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and James C. Lee, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division in Chicago. The Justice Department’s Counterespionage Section assisted in the investigation, which is continuing.
According to the charges, in early November 2008, Ben Israel and Turner began having discussions with Mugabe, Gono, and other ZANU-PF leaders regarding the influence Ben Israel and Turner could wield to have the sanctions removed. The defendants discussed with Mugabe, Gono, and others their association with many public officials who purportedly had close connections with then President-Elect Obama. Ben Israel and Turner allegedly violated IEEPA by engaging in public relations, political consulting, and lobbying efforts on behalf of President Mugabe and other Zimbabwe officials pursuant to a Nov. 26, 2008, “Consulting Agreement” that called for an initial payment of $90,000 and three subsequent equal installments of $1,105,000. In early December 2008, Ben Israel’s U.S. bank blocked a wire transfer of $89,970 into his account from a Zimbabwe official affiliated with ZANU-PF.
According to the complaint affidavit, Ben Israel and Turner:
- arranged for trips by federal and state government officials to meet with President Mugabe and other Zimbabwean officials, including in November and December 2008, and January, August, and December 2009;
- attempted to have Gono and other Zimbabwean officials speak at an issues forum in Washington, D.C., sponsored by a then U.S. Representative from California, and to assist those officials in obtaining visas to travel to the U.S. to attend the event;
- arranged for President Mugabe to meet with federal and state government officials in New York;
- lobbied a caucus of state legislators on behalf of Zimbabwean officials; and
- failed to apply to the Treasury Department for a license to engage in transactions and services on behalf of specially designated nationals.
In November 2008, the defendants allegedly arranged for Illinois State Senator A to meet with President Mugabe, after which Turner wrote an email to an associate stating that Turner and State Senator A “now understand the issues and will convey back to the President Elect.” Later that month, Turner sent an email to Ben Israel’s assistant stating they should see if State Senator A could “get 2 to 3 members of the House” and others to travel to Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, in the coming weeks for a “fact finding vacation.” The defendants’ planning for a delegation of Illinois legislators to visit Zimbabwe included Turner asking Ben Israel to have State Senator A issue a letter to Gono, and Turner provided a draft of the letter to Gono, stating that State Senator A hoped the U.S. presidential election would cause the U.S. to take a fresh look at the sanctions. It also mentioned a potential State of Illinois trade office in Zimbabwe. The defendants and another individual allegedly arranged for Ben Israel, Illinois State Senator A and Illinois State Representative A to travel to South Africa in early December 2008. Travel records show the two legislators traveled to Israel but did not return as scheduled and extended their overseas stay.
Three days after they returned, 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 this email to the FBI based on its concerns that State Representative A may have violated sanctions by traveling to Zimbabwe.
Ben Israel and Turner further planned for State Senator A and State Representative A to travel to Zimbabwe in January 2009, with additional emails indicating that Ben Israel would arrive with them, and wanted to provide Gono with an update on their progress to oppose and remove the sanctions. State Senator A cancelled his trip but travel records show that State Representative A traveled to South Africa and returned to the U.S. from Senegal in late January 2009.
Throughout 2009, Ben Israel and Turner allegedly continued to pass communications between Zimbabwean leaders and U.S. public officials while seeking payment for their services from Gono. In June 2009, Turner sent an email to Ben Israel and attached a letter Gono had written to U.S. Senator A. The letter stated that Gono had been “fully briefed about your [U.S. Senator A’s] current efforts on the sanctions issue by the very able” Turner. In the email to Ben Israel, Turner asked for a similar letter from State Senator A on the intent to solicit the support of national elected officials regarding the sanctions.
In September 2009, Turner emailed a Zimbabwean official letters that the two Illinois state legislators had written in July 2009, expressing their commitment to assist President Mugabe and Gono. State Senator A’s letter stated that he would use his leadership position with the international committee for the National Black Caucus of State Legislators to organize a delegation to travel to Zimbabwe.
In August 2009, an individual forwarded to Turner two official letters that U.S. Representative A, from Chicago, wrote to President Mugabe and Gono, stating that U.S. Representative A had been briefed by Ben Israel, and requesting a meeting with them in Harare in late August or early September. About the same time, Turner forwarded to a Zimbabwean official an itinerary for U.S. Representative B, also from Chicago, to travel to Africa as part of an official Congressional delegation that stopped in South Africa.
The affidavit further describes details of an effort by Ben Israel and Turner to have Gono speak at an issues forum hosted by then U.S. Representative C from California in September 2009. Turner allegedly attempted to assist Gono, as well as two other Zimbabwean officials, obtain visas to ensure that they could attend and participate in the forum.
Ben Israel and Turner also allegedly lobbied a caucus of state legislators to advocate for the removal of sanctions: Ben Israel spoke at the caucus’s convention in December 2009; they sought for the caucus to pass a resolution asking for the removal of sanctions; and they made plans to take caucus members to Zimbabwe as part of a December 2009 delegation before that trip was cancelled.
The government is being represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Barry Jonas and William Ridgway, and David Recker, a trial attorney with the Justice Department’s Counterespionage Section.
Violating IEEPA carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. If convicted, the Court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal statutes and the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines.
The public is reminded that a complaint contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt against each defendant.