A CHICAGO man accused of illegally lobbying Illinois politicians in a failed bid to lift US economic sanctions against Zimbabwe vehemently denied wrongdoing Thursday, saying he had a long and unblemished record as a liaison to African governments.
C. Gregory Turner, 71, appeared weary but defiant after flying overnight from his expatriate home in Israel to answer charges that were unsealed last week.
After U.S. Magistrate Judge Geraldine Soat Brown released him on his own recognisance, Turner told reporters at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse he had spent 30 years trying to lift Africans out of economic despair, efforts that often involved collaboration with numerous "politicians and business delegations."
"They're serious charges and we will be responding," Turner said.
His court-appointed attorney, James Tunick, said the facts will show that Turner has "always dealt openly and honestly with various governments" on the continent.
"Mr. Turner travelled all the way from Israel voluntarily as soon as he found out about this complaint to clear his good name," said Tunick.
"He's 71 years old, he's been leading delegations to Africa with various politicians open and obviously and he maintains his absolute innocence of these charges and we'll go from here."
The judge noted that Turner reported to court officials that he collects Social Security as his sole income and cannot afford an attorney.
Turner and long-time friend Prince Asiel Ben Israel were charged in an alleged scheme to get newly elected President Barack Obama in late 2008 in 2009 to lift sanctions against President Robert Mugabe and his inner circle.
The sanctions, blamed by Mugabe for Zimbabwe's economic problems, were imposed over allegations of vote fraud and human rights abuses which the veteran leader rejects.
According to the charges, Turner and Ben Israel tried to persuade an Illinois state senator and two U.S. representatives from Chicago to push for the lifting of the sanctions
The two reached a consulting agreement with high-level Zimbabwe officials to be paid $3.4 million, authorities charged, but their efforts failed as the president continued the sanctions first imposed under the administration of George W. Bush.
The charges do not name any of the politicians, but details included in the charges made it clear that among the lawmakers the two dealt with were state Senator Donne Trotter, Democrats Chicago, and U.S. Representatives Danny Davis and Bobby Rush, both Chicago Democrats. None of the public officials was accused of wrongdoing.
"I'm not going to comment about Danny Davis or Bobby Rush, this case isn't about Danny Davis or Bobby Rush," Tunick said.
Ben Israel also appeared in court last week and was released on his own recognisance.