2 Chicago men charged with illegally lobbying for Zimbabwe president
BY KIM JANSSEN, NATASHA KORECKI AND DAVE MCKINNEY Staff Reporters August 6, 2013 2:55PM
08/06/2013 Chicago Prince Asiel Ben Israel leaves the Dirksen Federal Building in downtown Chicago on Tuesday, August 6, 2013. | Michael Jarecki ~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 8, 2013 6:22AM
Two Chicago men illegally negotiated a $3.4 million deal to lobby Chicago politicians on behalf of despotic Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, prosecutors say.
Prince Asiel Ben Israel, 72, and Greg Turner, 71, allegedly flouted U.S. sanctions against Mugabe and his inner-circle when they attempted to enlist four Chicago lawmakers to open a “back channel” to President Barack Obama and have the sanctions overturned.
But any hopes they had that the election of a black U.S. president would lead to a policy change towards Mugabe’s Southeast African regime were doomed from the outset, according to a federal complaint unsealed Tuesday.
Before Obama was sworn in, his staff referred the case to the FBI in December 2008 — leading to Ben Israel’s eventual appearance before a judge Tuesday afternoon.
Wearing blue suede shoes, the sharp-suited Ben Israel declined to comment after he was freed on his own recognizance by Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys, who ordered him to stay at his home in the 4800 block of South Forestville.
Ben Israel is a leader in the Hebrew Israelite black-Jewish movement, and once spoke up for Gangster Disciple leader Larry Hoover at a parole hearing.
With Turner — who authorities say is at large in Israel, and who is also charged with lobbying for Mugabe without a license — he allegedly plotted to seize control of a Zimbabwean “blood diamond” mine, and to cash in on U.S.-Zimbabwe relations.
Mugabe and his banking chief, Gideon Gono, agreed to pay the pair millions if they could overturn sanctions placed on them by the Bush Administration in 2003, according to the complaint.
In an apparent reference to the Chicago politicians they lobbied, Turner allegedly reassured Gono in a July 2009 email, “the battle has just begun — failure is not an option.”
Though none of the politicians the men approached are named in court papers or is accused of any crime, the complaint makes it clear that U.S. Representatives Danny Davis and Bobby Rush were targeted.
Both co-sponsored a 2010 bill that sought a review of the sanctions, which were intended to rein in the fraud, violence, intimidation and vote rigging that Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party have increasingly relied upon.
At least one of the two congressmen — it’s unclear whether it was Davis or Rush — planned to travel to Zimbabwe to meet with Mugabe in 2009, but the trip was canceled, the complaint says.
The complaint also says an unnamed state senator and state representative linked to the defendants went to Africa in 2008, and agreed to lobby Obama on Mugabe’s behalf.
Though Turner and Ben Israel suggested Mugabe would foot the bill for the “fact finding vacation,” the hotel the Illinois politicians stayed in wasn’t paid in full, it’s alleged. Mugabe’s regime ultimately pulled the plug on the project after Obama renewed the sanctions multiple times, and Ben Israel and Turner were never paid, according to the complaint.
The state senator is described as a leader with the International Committee for the National Black Caucus of State Legislators. The chairman of that committee is state Sen. Donne Trotter, who has previously met with Mugabe and whose political campaign fund paid Ben Israel $1,000 in 2009, records show.
Neither Trotter nor Davis responded to calls seeking comment Tuesday. Rush’s office issued a statement denying he’d ever met with Ben Israel or Turner.
Contributing: Becky Schlikerman and Frank Main