US trial lifts lid on diamond deals

HARARE - A trial in the United States has opened a can of worms, with a former lawmaker accusing a prominent Chicago developer of paying kickbacks to high-ranking officials in Zimbabwe in the hope of starting a lucrative diamond mine operation.

In a lengthy cross-examination during his trial on Tuesday, Mel Reynolds, a twice-convicted felon and ex-lawmaker, accused Elzie Higginbottom of using the company they formed, Sub-Sahara LLC, to funnel bribes to members of President Robert Mugabe’s administration in order to start a diamond mining operation in Zimbabwe.

Higginbottom, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing, flatly denied the allegations.

“Didn’t you have a deal with Robert Mugabe for a diamond concession in Zimbabwe?” Reynolds asked during one heated exchange.

“No, I did not,” Higginbottom replied.

Later, after prosecutors and Reynolds huddled in a lengthy sidebar with US District Judge Robert Gettleman, Reynolds returned to the podium and asked about an alleged deal between Higginbottom and the Zanu PF leader to split the proceeds of the mine 50-50.

Higginbottom again denied the accusation.

Reynolds also asked a series of questions about a cheque for $100 000 that Higginbottom reportedly sent to war veterans leader Christopher Mutsvangwa, then a close associate of Mugabe.

Although the two are now estranged — they appear to have been close when Mutsvangwa was still in government where he served first as deputy Foreign Affairs minister before he was promoted to a full minister of War Veterans.

When Higginbottom said he didn’t recall sending the money, Reynolds turned toward the judge and gestured with his hands as though he couldn’t believe the answer.

“You’re running a company, obviously very well, and you don’t know whether you sent $100 000 to someone in Africa?” Reynolds asked incredulously.

While acknowledging that he once engaged Higginbottom for potential investment in Zimbabwe but not in the diamond mining, Mutsvangwa dismissed Reynolds as a “crook”.

“He is a crook and he used my name to borrow money and fled the country, he is a crook, I am the one who reported him to the Central Intelligence Organisation and he was deported, he is an unsavoury character and he was deported, he has a sordid record,” said Mutsvangwa.

Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba told the Daily News: “You expect me to give credence to claims of a convict”.

During Reynolds trial, Higginbottom did acknowledge meeting in 2012 with a delegation of Zimbabwean officials — including former Mines and Mining Development minister Obert Mpofu — in the Washington offices of US Rep Bobby Rush of Chicago.

Reynolds, who was also at the meeting, claimed in his questioning that Higginbottom was angry with him at the time because he thought Reynolds had screwed up the mining deal.

“That’s not what happened,” Higginbottom testified.

“In fact, that’s exactly what happened, isn’t it?” Reynolds shouted.

The judge immediately sustained objections from prosecutors over the improper form of the question.

The investigation into Reynolds’ dealings in Zimbabwe coincided with a criminal probe into two long time Chicagoans who were charged in 2013 with lobbying on behalf of top Zimbabwe government officials in an attempt to lift US economic sanctions against the southern African nation.

Both C Gregory Turner and Prince Asiel Ben Israel were convicted.

In 2014, Reynolds was arrested after he allegedly violated the country’s pornography laws at local hotel.

He was subsequently deported.

Zimbabwe’s diamond mining in Manicaland has yielded very little benefit for long-suffering Zimbabweans although they have seemingly enriched those in government and also foreign nationals who were keen on making a killing in the extraction of the rare gems.

Mugabe himself confessed that at least $15 billion from the extraction of the precious gems is not accounted for something that has caused so much anger among Zimbabweans.

Comments (1)

This expose shows why Mutsangwa never gets arrested for anything. They fear he can spill the beans.

Inyika - 29 September 2017

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