Thursday, September 24, 2020

Botswana power politics and the Jefferson factor

Five years is a long time in politics. Travel back that far and you would gate crash the most high profile Christmas party of 2003. It was no dull affair. The party budget topped the P100 000 mark and the guest list exchanging Christmas wishes would have made any Gaborone social butterfly green with envy.

In-here were President Festus Mogae, Congressman William Jefferson and the then Debswana Managing Director, Louis Nchindo, trading banter and clicking glasses of mature single malt whisky on the entertainment lobby of Nchindo’s river front Kasane palace and in a number of high end tourism resorts in the area.

Fast forward. The three erstwhile friends are probably shaking their fists and squirming at the memory of the Christmas meeting as news that Congressman Jefferson has been charged for soliciting bribes from an American investor in return for using his influence to get the investor a satellite transmission contract in Botswana.

Nchindo is currently a subject of long running investigations by the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime for splashing P100 000 of Debswana money entertaining the president, the congressman and their families. Government is also not happy with the way he ran Debswana, as a result a team of English lawyers were ferried in from London to perform a thorough audit immediately he departed the splendidly furnished Debswana head office three years ago; investigations are still ongoing.

For president Mogae, the 2003 Christmas Whisky must be the most expensive and embarrassing he has ever had in his long life (now approaching seventy). Embarrassed that his name is being raised frequently in the DCEC investigations, Mogae, two years ago, went public on how he was tricked into thinking that the money was from “the rich man’s pocket.”

The rich man, of course, is Nchindo, who has since fallen out with the president and his name deleted from the State House invitation list.

Before the fall out, Mogae and Nchindo had come a long way ÔÇô from their student days as brilliant Oxford students to the State House when Nchindo literally prevailed on Mogae to bring Ian Khama into politics and make him a Vice President.

But the fall out has since deteriorated so much so that not only are the two men not talking to each other, Mogae will not even bring himself to mention Nchindo by name; at a party he hosted for local editors two years ago, the president repeatedly referred to Nchindo only as a “rich man.”

The embattled congressman, on the other hand, must be hoping and praying that the Christmas meeting should not open another can of worms. The US congress “prohibits trips by a member of the house paid for by private sources” unless the member was on duty and can prove that he did not use public office for private gain.

According to the “United States of America VS William J. Jefferson” charge sheet, the American congressman was at the time cutting deals with American investors who wanted to enter the Botswana market through the back door.

Congressman Jefferson’s promises to one American investor that he would help him get a Botswana satellite contract suggest that he had a lot of influence in Botswana’s corridors of power, which is probably not too far from the truth.

When Botswana officials were fending off the blood diamond campaign that threatened the over US $ 2 billion a year diamond market in America, they often turned to the American Congressman for assistance.

Jefferson, a lawyer by profession, fought the Botswana corner during the diamond for development campaign which was led by President Festus Mogae and Louis Nchindo.

Once in a while, Jefferson’s mail would turn in an “On Botswana government service” envelope inviting him to a business function in Botswana or an occasional letter from Botswana’s Special Envoy in Washington, Alfred Dube, calling on him to once again step up to the place to defend Botswana. In one of the letters, Dube pleaded: ”We understand that the House Ways and Means Committee’s Subcommittee on Trade will hold a hearing on “Trade in African Diamonds,” on Tuesday October 9th, 2001.

“Knowing of your long-standing activity on the Subcommittee relating to this issue, we thought it important again to share Botswana’s view with you. Botswana was honoured to host the congressional fact-finding mission that you led in April this year. We were particularly pleased that you were able to observe our diamond industry firsthand and be briefed by both public and private officials.
“President Mogae paid a visit to Washington shortly thereafter, in June, to brief Congress on the vital role that the diamond industry plays in the economic and social development of Botswana. We are grateful that you and your colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus received the President so warmly, and that he was able to hold such productive discussions with the congressional leadership.”

According to the charge sheet, sometime in March 2002, Jefferson demanded and received a share of an undisclosed company’s gross revenue from a satellite transmission contract the company wanted in Botswana. The shares were given to the ANJ Group, a Jefferson’s family controlled company all in return for Jefferson’s performance of official acts to advance the undisclosed company’s efforts to obtain the satellite contract in Botswana. These official acts included travel to Botswana for meetings with government officials here.

According to the charge sheet, Jefferson made a telephone call to the undisclosed American investor in Maryland on July 7, 2002 from his home in Washington DC requesting the investor to meet him at his official residence in Washington DC to discuss the prepossessed deal between ANJ and the investor’s company.

Congressman Jefferson was indicted this week by a federal grand jury on charges including bribery and racketeering for allegedly using his office to corruptly solicit bribes and for paying bribes to a foreign official, Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg for the Eastern District of Virginia has announced.

The 16-count indictment, returned by a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Va., charges Jefferson with solicitation of bribes, honest services wire fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice, violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, racketeering, and conspiracy. The indictment alleges that from in or about August 2000 through in or about August 2005, Jefferson, while serving as an elected member of the U.S. House of Representatives, used his position and his office to corruptly seek, solicit and direct that things of value be paid to Jefferson and his family members in exchange for his performance of official acts to advance the interests of people and businesses who offered him the bribes.

The things of value allegedly sought and/or received by Jefferson on behalf of his business interests and relatives included hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bribes in the form of payments from monthly fees or retainers, consulting fees, percentage shares of revenues and profits, flat fees for items sold, and stock ownership in the companies seeking his official assistance.

The official acts allegedly undertaken by Jefferson included leading official business delegations to Africa, corresponding with U.S. and foreign government officials, and utilizing congressional staff members to promote businesses and businesspersons. Business ventures that Congressman Jefferson sought to promote included: telecommunications deals in Nigeria, Ghana, and elsewhere; oil concessions in Equatorial Guinea; satellite transmission contracts in Botswana, Equatorial Guinea, and the Republic of Congo; and development of different plants and facilities in Nigeria.

“The Department of Justice is committed to enforcing the public corruption laws designed to ensure the integrity of our government,” said Assistant Attorney General Fisher. “The Department will continue to hold public officials accountable for corrupt acts such as the bribery schemes outlined in today’s indictment.”

“The schemes charged are complex, but the essence of this case is simple: congressman Jefferson corruptly traded on his good office, and on the Congress where he served as a Member of the United States House of Representatives, to enrich himself and his family through a pervasive pattern of fraud, bribery and corruption that spanned many years and two continents,” said U.S. Attorney Rosenberg.

“The FBI has made combating public corruption its top criminal investigative priority because American citizens deserve honest and ethical public officials representing their interest,” said Assistant Director Kenneth W. Kaiser, FBI Criminal Investigative Division. “As it is alleged, Congressman Jefferson violated the public’s trust and used his official position and office as a RICO enterprise to corruptly solicit bribes, to pay off a foreign official, and to illegally benefit from overseas business transactions during a five-year period. The FBI will continue to work with our local, state, federal and international partners to combat public corruption across all levels of government as no corrupt public servant is exempt from FBI scrutiny.”

The indictment alleges that Jefferson knowingly conspired with Vernon L. Jackson, a Louisville, Ky., businessman, and Brett M. Pfeffer, a former Jefferson congressional staff member, and others as part of the bribery and corruption scheme. Jefferson allegedly discussed and solicited bribes in return for being influenced in the performance of certain official acts, including receiving things of value from iGate, Jackson’s company. According to the indictment, Jefferson also corruptly sought bribes from an individual identified in the indictment as a Cooperating Witness (CW) to be paid to family members. The indictment alleges, for example, that Jefferson required 5 percent to 7 percent of the CW’s newly formed Nigerian company be given to members of Jefferson’s family in exchange for his assistance. Jefferson allegedly made the request of the CW in December 2004 during a meeting in a congressional dining room.

The indictment further alleges that Jefferson violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by allegedly offering, promising and making payments to a foreign official to advance the various business endeavors in which he and his family had financial interest. Jefferson was allegedly responsible for negotiating, offering and delivering payments of bribes to the official identified in the indictment as “Nigerian Official A.”

According to the indictment, on or about July 18, 2005, Jefferson met with Nigerian Official A at the official’s residence in Potomac, Md., and offered Official A a bribe to induce him to use his position to assist in obtaining commitments from NITEL, the government-controlled main telecommunications service provider in Nigeria. On or before Aug. 3, 2005, at his residence in Washington, D.C., Jefferson allegedly secreted in his freezer $90,000 of the $100,000 in cash provided by the CW as part of the front-end bribe payment to Nigerian Official A. The cash was separated into $10,000 increments, wrapped in aluminum foil, and concealed inside various frozen food containers.

Jefferson faces a maximum of 235 years in prison if convicted on all counts. Jackson was sentenced to 87 months in prison after pleading guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and the payment of bribes to a public official. Pfeffer was sentenced to 96 months in prison after pleading guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and aiding and abetting the solicitation of bribes by a member of Congress.

This week Botswana authorities were running for cover, trying to find ways to distance themselves from Jefferson.

But sources close to Debswana and government during Jefferson’s incursions into Botswana told The Sunday Standard this week that for all the current problems he is going through, the Afro-American helped Botswana a lot at a time when Botswana diamonds were under the risk of being lumped together as those from elsewhere in Africa as “Blood diamonds.”

During his visits to Botswana, the American met not just the State President but a host of ministers and senior government officials including at the ministries of Health and Foreign Affairs.

For Botswana what is interesting is how the country will fare as the scandal and prosecution progresses given the now irretrievably sour relations between the two men who were Jefferson’s port of call in Botswana: Festus Mogae and Louis Nchindo.

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