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US prosecutors charge men with illegal lobbying for Zimbabwe president

Prosecutors from the US Attorneys Office for the Northern District of Illinois [official website] on Tuesday unsealed a criminal complaint [text, PDF] that was filed last month against two men for illegally lobbying US lawmakers on behalf of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. The complaint filed against Prince Asiel Ben Israel and C. Gregory Turner stated that the men attempted to persuade [press release] US state and federal lawmakers to oppose sanctions against Zimbabwe leaders in exchange for USD $3.4 million. Defendants were charged with violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) [text, PDF], which carries a maximum penalty [AP report] of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The investigation against US lawmakers is ongoing, but none of the government officials who met with Israel and Turner has been accused of wrongdoing at this time.

The sanctions against Mugabe and other designated individuals in Zimbabwe were initially imposed in 2003 by then-president George W. Bush in response to human rights violations, especially surrounding the diamond trade, occurring in the country. In May of last year a South African court ordered an investigation [JURIST report] into alleged human rights violations committed by Mugabe's government. The court order came after legal action was brought by human rights groups [JURIST report] urging South African courts to prosecute Mugabe's government for crimes against humanity. In 2011 the BBC reported that Zimbabwe security forces have been running illegal diamond mining camps [JURIST report] in the country's Marange area, where recruited civilian workers are regularly tortured and forced into labor. According to the report, workers are subject to mauling by dogs, multiple beatings and rape. The camps, one of which allegedly has ties to a personal friend of Mugabe, were reported to have been operating for three years.

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