Chicagoan wants Zimbabwe’s president deposed for criminal case

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Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe should be deposed in a Chicago criminal case when he travels to the U.S. this month for a United Nations meeting, lawyers for a South Side businessman say.

Gregory Turner, 72, wants a federal judge to force the controversial African leader to give videotaped evidence in his defense.

Turner — who’s due to stand trial on Sept. 29 — is accused of illegally lobbying politicians, including U.S. Reps Danny Davis and Bobby Rush, to lift sanctions against Mugabe and members of his ruling elite.

But Turner’s lawyers wrote in a court filing Thursday that he won’t have a fair trial unless U.S. District Judge Elaine Bucklo orders Mugabe to give a deposition when he visits New York for a U.N. meeting later this month.

“If the Government is truly interested in the pursuit of justice, it should welcome Mr. Mugabe’s videotaped testimony,” lawyer Michael Leonard wrote in the filing, describing Mugabe’s role as “central” to the case.

It isn’t the first time Turner’s lawyers have tried to bring a major political name into the case. Last week, they cited a meeting then U.S. Sen. Joseph Biden had in 2006 with Gideon Gono, the head of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, as evidence that Turner did not believe he was breaking any laws.

Gono was a subject of the same 2001 U.S. sanctions as Mugabe when the vice president and other politicians met with him, Turner’s lawyers say.

But the bold attempt to force Mugabe to testify goes a step further.

Mugabe is not subject to the subpoena powers of the court unless and until he arrives in the U.S.

Previous attempts to detain him on foreign soil have not gone well.

British gay rights protestor Peter Tatchell was badly beaten by Mugabe’s bodyguards in Brussels in 2001 after he attempted to perform a “citizen’s arrest” on Mugabe.

The Zimbabwean embassy did not immediately return calls seeking comment Thursday. The U.S. Attorney’s office declined to comment.

Charges filed last year alleged that Turner illegally negotiated a $3.4 million deal to lobby for Mugabe.

Together with co-defendant Prince Asiel Ben Israel, 73, he allegedly flouted U.S. sanctions when he tried to enlist four Chicago lawmakers in a failed bid to open a “back channel” to President Barack Obama and have the sanctions overturned.

Ben Israel previously plead guilty and was sentenced last month to seven months in prison.

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