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Obama Contact Triggers Charges Against ‘Lobbyists’ for Violating U.S. Sanctions

Federal charges were unsealed yesterday against two Chicago men for allegedly violating U.S. sanctions by agreeing to assist Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to lift economic sanctions in 2008 and 2009.

Ben Israel and Greg Turner were to be paid $3.4 million for their engaging in public relations, political consulting and lobbying to have sanctions removed. After a December 2008 trip to Zimbabwe by Ben Israel, an Illinois state senator, and an Illinois state representative, President-elect Obama’s transition team was contacted via email by an Illinois state representative wanting to talk about a meeting he had in Zimbabwe. The transition team forwarded this email to the FBI based on its concerns that the state representative may have violated sanctions by traveling to Zimbabwe.

The charges involved arranging trips for federal and state government officials; arranging speaking events for Zimbabwean officials in the U.S.; arranging for President Mugabe to meet with federal and state officials in the U.S.; lobbying state legislators on behalf of Zimbabwe; and failing to apply for a Treasury Department license to engaging in certain activities.

Mentioned in the Department of Justice press release were lobbying activities attempting to influence or involve Illinois state legislators, two Chicago area U.S. representatives and one California U.S. representative. They were not named, but media reports have speculated that they may involve Rep. Bobby L. Rush, D-Ill., Rep. Danny K. Davis, D-Ill., and former Rep. Diane Watson, D-Calif.

View Department of Justice press release.