Thursday, October 1, 2020

Botswana may have cut dirty deals with corrupt US Congressman

Botswana government officials may have entered into questionable deals with convicted US congressman William Jefferson for educational technology and satellite transmission contracts in exchange for support for Botswana during the “diamond for development” controversy.

Congressman Jefferson, who was the voice of Botswana in the United States Congress during the ”blood diamond” controversy, was convicted Wednesday afternoon of using his office to try to enrich himself and relatives through a web of bribes and payoffs involving business ventures in Africa.

During the eight-week trial, prosecutors outlined numerous alleged schemes ÔÇö educational technology in Botswana, oil rights in Sao Tome, cable television boxes and sugar and oil plants in Nigeria, telecommunications deals in Ghana and “biospheres” in Equatorial Guinea and other parts of Africa that, at $7 million apiece, would turn trash into energy. It emerged that among business ventures that Jefferson sought involved satellite transmission contracts in Botswana.

In return, prosecutors said, Jefferson used his position as a member of the House Ways and Means trade subcommittee to promote the companies’ ventures without disclosing his own financial stakes in the deals.

Noah Samara, Ethiopian born CEO of WorldSpace, which brought satellite radio to parts of Asia and Africa, testified during the trial that in 2002, he told Jefferson about a trip he was planning to Africa to promote a satellite education program he had already sold to Nigeria and wanted to spread across the continent. Jefferson said that if he would add Botswana, Equatorial Guinea and the Congo to his itinerary and pay Jefferson’s expenses, Jefferson would join him for those stops and arrange meetings with top officials, including heads of state, at which he could pitch his education plan.

Jefferson said he had other business to conduct, including seeing whether the president of Botswana, Festus Mogae, would accept the same Congressional Black Caucus award Samara had received in 2001. Samara agreed to Jefferson’s plan. In the same year, former president Mogae received the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Confer Weekend Chair’s Award
America’s watchdog institution, Citizen for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), report says Congressman Jefferson may have violated the ethics in Government Act and House rules by failing to disclose his trips to Botswana.

“Rep. Jefferson traveled to Botswana four times in 2001 and 2002. He filed a travel disclosure form for just one of the trips, but not the other three, which cost a total of $102,000 about ( P700 000) and were paid for by the Debswana Diamond Company, a joint venture between DeBeers SA and the Botswana Government.

In 2001, Rep. Jefferson was an original co-sponsor of the “Clean Diamonds Act” designed to curb the trade of “blood diamonds.” By Rep. Jefferson’s own admission, the new law would have had an effect on Botswana.

In April of that same year, just before leaving for his first trip to Botswana, Rep. Jefferson dropped his co-sponsorship. When he returned from his trip, Rep. Jefferson actively spoke out against the bill, which Debswana opposed. By deliberately failing to include the Botswana trips valued at $102,000 on his financial disclosure forms, Rep. Jefferson may have violated the Ethics in Government Act and House rules. Jefferson’s trips to Botswana are also the subject of a corruption trial involving the then Debswana Managing Director, Louis Nchindo, Debswana Group Secretary Joe Matome and Corporate Communications Chief Jacob Sesinyi.

It is alleged in the charge sheet that Nchindo and Sesinyi obtained by false pretences a total of P583, 135 from Debswana by pretending that the said costs were expenses for Jefferson’s official trip to Debswana. The prosecution maintains that Jefferson’s trip was a private visit to Louis Nchindo.

When the Jeffersons took the Debswana-funded trips, Congress was in the middle of a debate over what restrictions the United States should impose to weed out “blood diamonds” from entering the U.S. marketplace. During that period, Jefferson argued that tough restrictions on diamonds would hurt legitimate producers, such as those in Botswana.

A federal court jury in America deliberated for five days this week before finding Jefferson, 62, a New Orleans Democrat who served in Congress for 18 years until being defeated in 2008, guilty of 11 of 16 counts of bribery, racketeering and money laundering. He was acquitted of obstruction of justice and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it illegal to bribe foreign government officials.

Jefferson faces more than 20 years in prison under federal guidelines when he is sentenced on Oct. 30, prosecutors told The Associated Press. Prosecutors wanted Jefferson detained immediately after the verdict on grounds that his ties to Africa made him a flight risk, but Judge T. S. Ellis III allowed him to remain free on bond, citing his local ties.

Jefferson’s chief lawyer, Robert Trout, said that he would appeal.
Jefferson led official delegations to Africa, wrote letters to American and foreign officials and had members of his staff promote ventures in Nigeria, Ghana and Equatorial Guinea in which he had a financial interest, prosecutors said.

While he sought millions of dollars in bribes, Jefferson may have actually received less than $400,000, the prosecutors said. The government’s case relied partly on former Jefferson aides and business associates who pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against him. Jefferson did not testify in his own defense, and Judge Ellis cautioned the jurors that they were not to hold that decision against him. Trout argued, unsuccessfully, that Mr. Jefferson’s business-promotion activities in Africa did not qualify as “official acts” under public corruption laws, and that while some of his actions may have been stupid, they were not criminal.

As it unfolded over several years, the Jefferson case set off a government battle of constitutional proportions.

It also had hints of international intrigue and elements of near-comedy, as when the Federal Bureau of Investigation found $90,000 neatly wrapped in aluminum foil and placed in Mr. Jefferson’s home freezer. The constitutional clash unfolded after F.B.I. agents raided Jefferson’s Congressional office in May 2006, the first time the bureau had searched a Congressional office. The raid was denounced by lawmakers in both parties who said that the Justice Department, through the F.B.I., had committed an unconstitutional intrusion on Congressional independence. A federal judge upheld the raid, but an appeals court ruled that it was constitutionally flawed and that some documents should be returned to Mr. Jefferson. The Supreme Court let that ruling stand.

As for the money in the freezer, agents found it in a raid at Mr. Jefferson’s home in August 2005. Prosecutors said it was from a Kentucky businessman and was supposed to be used to bribe a high official of Nigeria, later identified as the vice president, Atiku Abubakar, who denied being part of any scheme.

Meanwhile, former Presidential Affairs Minister, Daniel Kwelagobe, told Parliament two years ago that President Festus Mogae had met with Representative William Jefferson, along with many other American Legislators in Gaborone and elsewhere on occasion, but not in November 2001.

“As a leading member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Representative Jefferson supported our country and the continent on many issues over the years, notably including the ‘Diamonds for Development’ campaign, which is worth acknowledging when the occasion arises.”

Kwelagobe was answering a question from the Member of Parliament for Lobatse, Nehemiah Modubule. Modubule had asked the Minister whether allegations that President Festus Mogae had a meeting in December 2001 at Kasane with a certain William Jefferson of the USA were true and, if so, what the nature of his trip was.

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