Mugabe lobbying trial opens with little Burris, lots of intrigue

via Mugabe lobbying trial opens with little Burris, lots of intrigue | Early & Often 29 September 2014

The buildup to Chicagoan C. Greg Turner’s trial has been dominated by allegations former U.S. Sen. Roland Burris, a star prosecution witness, tried to shake down a businessman for a $250,000-a-year job.

But Burris was only a side note Monday as opening statements in Turner’s trial focused instead on Turner’s character and his role at the center of an international drama that could have been ripped from the pages of a spy thriller.

Prosecutors painted the 72-year-old Turner as a greedy opportunist who sought to cash in on President Barack Obama’s election by secretly and illegally lobbying Chicago politicians to lift U.S. sanctions against Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

But Turner’s lawyers said Turner is a “humanitarian” with a track record of helping struggling African nations, who believed Obama’s election would herald “a historic change” in the U.S. approach to foreign nations including Zimbabwe. They said a contract Turner’s business partner allegedly agreed with the Zimbabwean government to act as its agent is a forgery.

During opening statements watched by U.S. Attorney Zach Fardon, however, prosecutor Georgia Alexakis said Turner himself had forged the signatures of several Chicago politicians, including Burris, on letters of support for Mugabe.

Mugabe and his ruling elite have since 2001 been the target of U.S. sanctions that seek to punish them for vote-rigging, political violence and intimidation, but Turner and his business partner Prince Asiel Ben Israel — who previously pleaded guilty — decided to “leverage their political connections” in Chicago and Africa following Obama’s election to overturn the sanctions, Alexakis said.

“Think about that,” she said. “The defendant and Ben Israel were trying to change the laws of this country to the benefit of officials from a foreign government, without telling the U.S. government that they were working for those foreign officials.”

Showing jurors a photo of a smiling Turner and Ben Israel meeting with Mugabe, she pointed to an email in which she said Turner had written that if lobbying for Mugabe meant “breaking [President] Bush’s law, let it be.”

Representing Turner, lawyer Jim Tunick said state Sen. Donne Trotter, who’s also expected to be a prosecution witness, will give evidence that “exonerates” Turner. Trotter and other politicians who traveled to Zimbabwe supported Mugabe before they even met Turner, he said.

Turner was convinced nothing was wrong with lobbying on Mugabe’s behalf after he was told of a 2006 meeting on Capitol Hill between the Black Congressional Caucus and Mugabe’s finance minister, Gideon Gono, himself a target of the sanctions, Tunick said.

“At that meeting, Sen. Joseph Biden, the senator who sponsored the sanctions against Zimbabwe, shook Gideon Gono’s hand!” Tunick boomed.

Tunick also claimed that a $3.4 million “consulting agreement” allegedly signed by Ben Israel and a Zimbabwean senator was forged, pointing to differences in signatures on the Zimbabwean senator’s passport and the contract.

He said Turner was investigated only after state. Sen. Ken Dunkin sought a meeting with Obama’s advisors Valerie Jarrett, Susan Rice and Robert Gibbs to discuss the sanctions in 2008. An assistant to Rahm Emanuel — soon to become Obama’s chief of staff — misrouted Dunkin’s message, which ended up at the Justice Department, Tunick said.

Dunkin is not expected to testify. But Trotter and Burris’s testimony — likely next week — could prompt fireworks. Turner’s lawyers have previously alleged that Trotter failed to declare $2,500 in cash he took from Ben Israel, and that Burris tried to shake down a business owner for a $250,000-a-year job while he was still a senator.

The trial is expected to take two weeks.


  • comment-avatar

    Its sad that anyone would risk his reputation for the cause of a hard core dictator who belives only him alone has the right to leadership. What a pity. Lawlessness is the order of the day for that dictator. He has killed the entire economy just to remain in power. Pursued destructive policies rigging elections all the way for his benefit even if it means striping all cash in the country to pay crooks

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    If these two self-proclaimed lobbyists of Zimbabwe would have paid the right people in Washington DC, all this hoopla would’ve been nothing comparing to the hard core bribes and pay-offs Washington DC is so accustom to. It has been a fully bona fide practice in Washington DC to bribe the entire US Congress, the US senate, the Pentagon, the White House and everything in between so having these two ammatures taking the short cut back fired and this is the music they have to face. Having former Governor Gono meeting the incompetent bafoon Joe Bidon is a totally normal and legal and incident that takes place 100s of times a day. Beside, Mr. Gono at that time was the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and having met then Senator Bidon was a normal thing and nothing unusual about it. The fact of the matter is that if one wants to buy the US congressman, it is the cheapest rate to do so in the world in comparison to other countries where a senior level of a senator would cost in millions. In USA one can invite these sell-outs at a promise to raise $50,000. So spending the kind of money these two so called “Zimbabwe’s hired guns” was way way over priced. Cheapest politicians to buy are the Americans and the entire US Congress and the Senate is up for sale to the highest bidder even at a cost of America’s peril! They do it all the time. One only has to check the lobbying records and the performances of these sold out crooks in the Congress and the Senate house! Zimbabwe must find creative and innovative plans to entice the foreign capital into the country based on Zimbabwe’s trillions of dollars of wealth under its ground. So Zimbabweans, get up and start thinking of creative plans of how to get the foreign partners starting from a small $50,000 investments to any size. Have them become partners on smaller size gold mines, diamonds buy’n’sell etc. etc. I wish you all the greatest days ahead of Zimbabwe and pray that Zimbabwe never fall victim to the criminals of IMF an the Wold Bank. God be with you all!

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    revenger avenger 6 years ago

    Merely foolish opportunistic quislings of greed. Birds of a feather swing together !!!!!!!!!!