Two Chicago men who were recently convicted of illegally lobbying for the lifting of sanctions on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and former Central Bank governor Gideon Gono were not only interested in bailing out the ageing ruler but they were also eyeing Zimbabwe’s vast diamond resources.
Gregory Turner and Prince Asiel Ben Israel entered into a US$3.4 million deal in November 2008 to lobby Chicago legislators to persuade then newly elected United States President Barack Obama to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe. They were paid an initial fee of US$90 000 but failed dismally in their mission as Obama renewed the sanctions every year starting in March 2009 up to now.
Ben Israel pleaded guilty and was sentenced to seven months in jail in August while Turner pleaded not guilty but was convicted this month. He is still to be sentenced.
The pair was so interested in the country’s vast diamond resources, said to be the world’s biggest diamond find in the last century, that Turner was already negotiating with Ernest Blom, one of the top diamond executives in the world, to set up a diamond mining company called Edenic Diamond Resources less than three months after signing the deal.
Turner, it seemed, wanted to capitalise on his relationship to Mugabe and Gono while Blom wanted to take advantage of his position in the diamond industry to push the deal through.
Blom is the founder of Ernest Blom Diamond Cutting Works and Ernest Blom Diamonds both in Johannesburg, South Africa.
According to the company website the Blom family has been involved in diamonds for four generations.
Ernest Blom is the:
- Honorary Life President of the World Federation of Diamond Bourses
- Chairman of the Diamond Dealers Club of South Africa
- Chairman of the Diamond Council of South Africa
- Chairman of the Diamond and Jewellery Federation of South Africa
- Founding Member of the World Diamond Council
- Member of the Diamond and Precious Metals Regulator of South Africa
- Vice President of CIBJO (The United Nations of the jewellery business, The World Jewellery Confederation- whose acronym stands for Confédération International de la Bijouterie, Joaillerie, Orfèvrerie des Diamants, Perles et Pierres)
The diamond deal was revealed in the founding affidavit of the case against Turner and Ben Israel filed by Federal Bureau of Investigations Special Agent Steven Noldin but it was ignored by the United States media which focused on the Chicago legislators that Turner and Ben Israel tried to rope in to lobby Obama.
According to the affidavit Turner and Blom were already exchanging emails about the deal as early as 6 February2009 –five days before the formation of the Inclusive Government that ran Zimbabwe for the next four years- but this was apparently not the beginning of their talks.
Blom was not identified by name in the affidavit. He was referred to as Individual C. The affidavit, however, had clues that led The Insider to conclude that the person involved was Blom.
In one of his emails, Turner said Individual C was a diamond executive from South Africa. In another he said Individual C “was on the Kimberly inspection team that came to Zimbabwe last year”.
The Kimberley inspection team was in Zimbabwe in 2007 and not 2008. It included two South Africans, Ernest Blom representing the World Diamond Council, and Jacqueline Lenka who represented the South African Diamond Board.
The other clue was that the affidavit referred to Individual C as a “he”, ruling out Lenka.
Illinois District Court officials – where Turner and Ben Israel’s cases were heard- referred The Insider to the United States Department of Justice when asked to comment on whether Blom was Individual C but the department refused to confirm this and insisted that it would not to comment on the issue at all.
When approached by The Insider, Blom initially said that he could not comment on the matter because he had been asked by the “American State Attorney’s office” to be on standby to be a witness for the prosecution. The matter, he said, was therefore sub-judice.
When advised that Turner had already been convicted -on 10 October- Blom said he wanted to contact the United States attorney because he did not “want to do something that is not appropriate”.
“Indeed Greg Turner used my name in many of his attempts to lift sanctions etc.,” Blom said in response to the initial query from The Insider. “I have been asked by the American State Attorney’s office to be on standby to be a witness for the prosecution therefore I have to decline to comment as it is sub judice. You mention that he has been convicted, out of curiosity as I was not aware of this, was he sentenced and if so what sentence did he get?”
When advised that Turner had not yet been sentenced, Blom responded: “Please allow me first to contact the State Attorney, I do not want to do something that is not appropriate.”
This is the first of a five-part series on the Turner-Blom diamond deal and how it flopped. Tomorrow: Former Mines Minister Obert Mpofu knew about the deal and met Blom to discuss it.