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Comment from ZWNEWS, 9 March
Signs Mugabe regime is relaxing Catch-22 citizenship law
Zimbabwe-born Judith Todd, civil rights campaigner and daughter of a former Southern Rhodesian prime minister, fought a tough, expensive and nail-biting court battle on behalf of some two million Zimbabweans with foreign-born ancestors to retain her Zimbabwean citizenship. Some of them are still stateless and mired in Robert Mugabe’s draconian 2001 legislation designed mainly to strip 40 000 whites of citizenship, and thus their votes. Now there are signs the regime plans to relax this law. Three Supreme Court judges, including Mugabe’s handpicked chief justice Godfrey Chidyausikyu, handed down a speedily delivered judgement on 27 February, as Ms. Todd ended a four-week visit to Britain. They gave her two days to renounce citizenship of New Zealand where her father, Sir Garfield Todd, was born in 1908. It was a citizenship she had never held, never sought, and to which, according to the New Zealand High Commission in Pretoria, she has no automatic right – but she could apply.
Under the 2001 citizenship legislation, Zimbabweans with foreign-born ancestors were told to prove they had renounced all claims to citizenship of the countries in which their ancestors were born, in terms of the laws of those countries, or be deemed to have forfeited the right to Zimbabwean citizenship. Ms. Todd, 59, went to court saying she could not renounce a citizenship she didn’t have. A High Court judge agreed with her, ruled she was Zimbabwean by birth, and ordered registrar-general Tobaiwa Mudede to issue her a passport. When the Supreme Court overturned this ruling, Ms. Todd had no alternative but to rush to the New Zealand High Commission in London to pick up renunciation forms. She then flew home before the deadline and her lawyers lodged the papers with the Citizenship Office in Harare, which accepted them – provisionally. Had she delayed a day, she faced arrest and imprisonment for unlawfully using a Zimbabwean passport while a citizen of another country.
In the Todd case, the Supreme Court judges outdid Mugabe in their enthusiasm for the 2001 Act, which has thrown up so many insoluble problems that even the regime is having second thoughts. The Cabinet, in a statement in September – which the Supreme Court judges rejected as irrelevant – said that people with a mere potential right to foreign citizenship need not renounce it. Now a Citizenship Amendment Bill has been introduced - but not yet passed - in Parliament saying that children of people who came to Rhodesia before independence as Zimbabwe in 1980, particularly from neighbouring southern African countries, would not lose Zimbabwe citizenship if they failed to get papers saying they had renounced any right to foreign citizenship. Most of the people affected are of Malawian, Mozambique or Zambian descent, many of them former workers on commercial farms who are destitute since being driven off land seized from white owners. Spare a thought for them, and others, too. There are Zimbabweans of Indian descent. The Indian government said it does not provide consular services to non-citizens, so it was impossible for them to get any kind of proof from the Indian government that they had been disowned.
And then there’s the man in the real life Catch-22. Lesley Leventhe Petho, a self-employed businessman in Harare, was born in Zimbabwe in 1960, the son of parents who fled Hungary after the 1956 uprising against the Communists. The Hungarian embassy in Pretoria told him he would have to obtain Hungarian citizenship before he could renounce it – and diplomats said he would almost certainly be refused citizenship anyway (his parents were Hungarian residents, not citizens). But, under the Zimbabwean law, the simple act of applying would constitute irrevocable renunciation of Zimbabwean citizenship. So Petho would be stateless – and still is – whatever he did or did not do. So Petho is making his weary way through Zimbabwe’s courts. Last year a judge refused him permission to fight a class action on the ground he wasn’t typical of people with a mere potential right to foreign citizenship because he was stateless. The Supreme Court reversed this, and said Petho could fight a class action providing he advertised in national newspapers and on radio to let others in the same plight know he was doing this. And then – guess what? The state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation refused to accept his ads. Petho’s next step is back to court, seeking an order to force the ZBC to run the ads. On the other hand, if the law is amended, or if the registrar-general changed tack and agreed Petho is not Hungarian, and if …. Well, anyway, the whole thing may fall away.
From The Sunday Independent (SA), 9 March
'I was ordered to kill my father'
By Charlene Smith
Hundreds of Zimbabwe's notorious youth militia, nicknamed the "green bombers", are fleeing to South Africa because they say they too are being beaten and starved, and are tired of "killing for nothing". This week The Sunday Independent interviewed 14 green bombers aged from 15 to 28, giving the first insight into the terror organisation. One youth said he fled Zimbabwe after being forced to take part in the murder of his uncle, a supporter of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Another said he was involved in the murder of an MDC party chairperson and claimed that within hours of that death, Jonathan Moyo, the Zanu PF minister of information, visited the area, followed by President Robert Mugabe. A large consignment of food was moved in while green bombers exhorted villagers to chant Zanu PF slogans. Yet another said he fled to South Africa after being instructed to murder his father, an MDC supporter. Hundreds of youths have fled to South Africa, according to human rights organisations, churches and law offices. The stories of the youths interviewed - who come from different areas of Zimbabwe and who did not previously know each other - provide chilling details of the green bombers, their training and methods. They come from the hundreds of youth militia training camps which have sprung up in Zimbabwe, many at secondary schools where pupils are forced to take part in activities or risk death. Most of those interviewed fled in December and January, some swimming the Limpopo and risking crocodiles to get to South Africa. Their real names are being withheld to protect them and their families in Zimbabwe. Camps that the boys were trained at include the infamous Border Gezi in the north of the country and Tsholotsho training centre (a former training centre for nurses and police officers). At Tsholotsho, the green bombers claim, there are 2 000 trainees. Camps are sometimes much smaller, however, with only 100 trainees.
The green bomber operatives have alleged that:
Instructors at Border Gezi allegedly gave instructions that led to the death of a man in his 30s near Bulawayo. The man was walking along the road and when asked what political party he belonged to, he said that he did not believe in politics. And so the militia killed him. Instructors at a camp near Khami prison, Bulawayo, allegedly gave instructions for youth militia to kill Michael Sibanda, 41, secretary for the MDC Nkulumani branch. They gave a group of 10 young men dagga and alcohol before they sent them on the mission. In March last year, one 22-year-old green bomber claims, a woman instructor at Border Gezi and a Zanu PF political commissar instructed 13 youth militia that the MDC chairperson of the Siphepa branch, a Mr Sibindi, was to be killed. "She said it would need a strong person to kill him. We went to his house at 1am. His wife and seven children ran away. We beat him and broke his neck. It was so bad. They told us to burn him. We refused. We laid him next to the railway line. Later that morning we made a rally at Siphepa for Jonathan Moyo - everyone had to come, if we found someone in their house, we beat them. The Tsholotsho police tried to investigate but no one told them the truth."
A trainer at Tsholotsho allegedly told green bombers they must "beat white people because the MDC wants to give the country to the whites". A 19-year-old former operative said: "We were not paid. They gave us pap only. We sold mealiemeal in the shops to those with Zanu-PF cards. If MDC people came we chased them away. We were very rough." Some joined after being told they would get jobs. MN, 22, who was taken to Tsholotsho training camp, said he became tired of singing chimurenga songs all night so he went home to sleep. As punishment they "stripped me and made me roll over and over while they sprayed water on to me while I was beaten." BN, 18, said he was forced to burn the houses of opposition supporters. "I was in form four, all I wanted was education. One day we were told to beat an old man coming from a shebeen. He was MDC. We used broomsticks and donkey pills [truncheons]. I think he died."
From The National Post (Canada), 8 March
Canada's international 'man of infamy'
Ari Ben-Menashe: Star witness in Zimbabwe treason trial called 'delusional'
He may be the most controversial Canadian on the planet. He is involved in court cases at home and abroad. His life reads like a political thriller. His enemies are legion. Who is Ari Ben-Menashe? Brian Hutchinson reports from Montreal.
"I had been to Canada many times in the past," recalls Ben-Menashe, talking over his cellphone, somewhere in Montreal. "I liked it. I had lots of friends there." One of them was a woman named Haya Chetrit, whom he says he had met on the Canadian leg of his book tour. They married in June, 1993, and settled into a large apartment in downtown Montreal. He then applied for permanent resident status, one step on the road to full citizenship. When that didn't immediately materialize, he complained. "I'm married to a Canadian citizen," he told a reporter. "I have no convictions. I fit the criteria." Ben-Menashe hired a local immigration lawyer named Richard Kurland, who succeeded in getting him permanent residency. "I used to do a lot of wacko files," Kurland told me this week. "I worked cheap and I kept my mouth shut." He did Ben-Menashe a second favour, putting him in touch with another client, Alex Legault. "My thinking was, maybe they could work together," Kurland says. "Here were two intelligent guys. They both had interesting histories." Interesting, indeed.
A native of Maine, Alexander Henri Legault moved to Canada with his wife in 1982, and had obtained a ministerial permit to remain in the country. Four years later, however, he was indicted in the United States on fraud charges, stemming from a botched deal to export 5,000 tonnes of frozen chickens from Louisiana to Egypt. An arrest warrant was issued in the United States, and in 1988, when his ministerial permit expired, Legault was told he would have to leave Canada. He ignored the order. Five years later, he claimed refugee status, "on the basis of a fear of prosecution by virtue of having allegedly provided confidential information and damaging evidence against the CIA." The story he would tell immigration officials went as follows: Legault's mother-in-law, Frances Langleben, was among the victims of a secret mind-control experiment conducted in Montreal in the 1950s. The experiment was funded by the Central Intelligence Agency. Legault says he tried to help his mother-in-law receive compensation for her role in the experiment by approaching a lawyer, who, he claims, divulged his name to the CIA. The spy agency, Legault continued, decided to persecute him for talking to a lawyer about the experiment.
After he filed his client's unusual refugee claim, Kurland introduced Legault to Ben-Menashe. Apparently, the two men hit it off; in December, 1994, they formed Carlington Sales Canada Corporation and opened an office in Montreal. Carlington's business, states its charter, was the sale of commodities. What the two partners actually knew about selling food is an open question. Ben-Menashe was a wanna-be arms dealer and conspiracy peddler. Fraud charges seem to follow Legault wherever he went. Their inexperience - or, perhaps, their disregard for the law - soon landed them in hot water with clients. In February, 1997, new criminal charges were brought against Legault in the United States, this time by the State of Florida. Legault was accused of participating in a large "Ponzi" scheme from 1993 to 1996, in which some 300 victims, most of them retired folk in Florida, were defrauded of US$8-million. The alleged scam offered investors huge profits from the "food brokering business," when, in fact, "very little" food was bought or sold, and profits were nonexistent, according to state prosecutors. Legault's chief accomplice was captured and has pleaded guilty to his role. He is serving a 22-year jail sentence in Florida.
The Florida trouble did not exactly help Legault's lingering claim before Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board. He had an explanation, however: The charges were "trumped-up," and "fabricated by the CIA." The board was not impressed; it found Legault's claim "incoherent and illogical," and dismissed it. Legault then launched a series of appeals that continue to drag their way through Canada's immigration and justice systems. With Legault unable to leave Canada, for fear that American justice officials might pick him up and prosecute him, it fell to his partner, Ari Ben-Menashe, to hustle up new business. He didn't operate alone, however; in June, 1998, he hired his immigration lawyer, Richard Kurland. "It was exciting," recalls Kurland. "I'd never travelled like that before." The money was good, too. Kurland made US$8,000 a month, plus expenses. "I paid off my credit card debt," he says. Kurland's task had nothing to do with his area of expertise, immigration law. Unlikely as it sounds, he was to help Carlington negotiate the privatization of some copper mines in Zambia.
He thinks Carlington, and Ben-Menashe, did an awful lot of good in the developing world, despite warnings circulating around Ottawa that the company was to be approached with "caution." Canada benefited, Kurland says. Each time Ben-Menashe returned from overseas, he hopped into a car and drove to Ottawa, where he was debriefed by officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Kurland accompanied Ben-Menashe on a number of these trips. "The government received a lot of information," says Kurland. "Once, Ari came back from a trip to Eritrea, months before the country went to war with Ethiopia. Ari told Ottawa what was going to happen. Canada was the only country to predict that the conflict would occur. It made the country look good." What did Ben-Menashe receive in return? Kurland isn't sure. "I can say that Ari doesn't do nothing for nothing. Let's face it, the government can open doors for you abroad. It can help you avoid [trouble]." Kurland quit Carlington after just nine months. He was uneasy working with Alex Legault, he explains. And he hated the idea of doing business in Myanmar, the brutally repressed southeast Asian country. Ben-Menashe was travelling there all the time. "I decided that I didn't want to raise my family on the proceeds from Carlington Sales," he says. Still, Kurland swears he didn't see any "hanky-panky," during his time at Carlington. "All of the commercial transactions I saw were in accord with Quebec law."
That is not an impression shared by Olivier Damiron, another former Carlington employee. In November, 1998, Damiron left his Montreal computer shop to work for Ben-Menashe. His tasks included conducting Internet research on various African nations, to find out what sort of foreign commodities they were in the habit of purchasing. In short order, Damiron was accompanying Ben-Menashe on his foreign trips, acting as a kind of personal secretary while the boss attempted to broker deals. Typically, says Damiron, meetings would be held in Europe, between Ben-Menashe and foreign food brokers working on behalf of developing nations. Damiron was on hand to print up a sales contract, stating that Carlington would locate the commodity in question, such as wheat or rice, and arrange its shipment. In each case, Carlington demanded a 10% deposit, to be held in trust by an independent party back in Canada until the deal was completed. Ben-Menashe signed a lot of contracts. "I was really impressed," Damiron says. "He seemed really well-connected." Money started pouring in. Ben-Menashe bought fancy cars. Damiron used one to drive Ben-Menashe to Ottawa, for his debriefing sessions with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. The meetings were usually held in a room at the Château Laurier, an expensive hotel next to Parliament Hill. A department officer named Herbert Fraser was usually there to conduct the sessions. Fraser seemed impressed by Ben-Menashe, and in early 1999, he quit his senior post with the department, and went to work for Carlington in Montreal as a "political advisor." He didn't last long. Something provoked him to quit a few months later.
to be continued...