A controversial Canada-based consultant, whose previous claim to fame was framing Zimbabwe's opposition leader in a coup plot, has received more than $14-million (U.S.) from a white South African to broker deals for Zimbabwean farmland, according to U.S. government documents seen by The Globe and Mail.
Asked about the deal, Ari Ben Menashe said that in today's Zimbabwe "there are all kinds of possibilities; it isn't all doom and gloom." He added, "Now the government is willing to lease all kinds of land to all kinds of people."
Pressed about what he has done to earn his millions, he replied, "This is not money that is going into our pockets," and then added, "I don't want to get into details."
The Montrealer, who once described himself as an international man of infamy, was a paid "public-relations" consultant for President Robert Mugabe's regime from 2002 to 2004. At the time, he was trying to shore up the image of a pariah government that was seizing farmland from whites.
Although he might have not made the ruling ZANU-PF party look good in this period, Mr. Ben Menashe certainly helped make the opposition look bad.
Before going to work for Mr. Mugabe, he had been dealing with Zimbabwe's opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai. He invited Mr. Tsvangirai to his Montreal offices to discuss the impending 2002 election.
In Canada, Mr. Ben Menashe put to his guest several leading questions about "eliminating" Mr. Mugabe. Thanks to a pinhole camera Mr. Ben Menashe had installed in the ceiling, the whole conversation was taped.
Because the videotape was sent back to Zimbabwe as proof of a coup plot, Mr. Tsvangirai wound up jailed on treason charges in the midst of the 2002 presidential election campaign. He was eventually acquitted and lived to fight in this year's election, though he stood down last month complaining that state-sponsored election violence had resulted in the deaths of more than 80 of his supporters.
During the 2002 controversy, Mr. Ben Menashe circulated a press release saying that he sent the videotape to Harare because he felt "morally compelled to assist the embattled people of Zimbabwe and their President Robert Mugabe."
However, records show that shortly afterward, his consultancy, Dickens & Madson, signed a $400,000 contract to do PR work for Mr. Mugabe.
Those details are all a matter of public record. Under the terms of the U.S. Justice Department's Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, freelancers such as Mr. Ben Menashe must inform Washington of any attempts to lobby the United States on behalf of any foreign entities.
Newer FARA filings obtained by The Globe indicate Mr. Ben Menashe is no longer directly employed by the Mugabe regime. Rather, the focus of his enterprises these days is Paul Calder LeRoux, a 35-year-old South African-Australian dual citizen, who lives in the Philippines and who made his fortune building call centres.
Mr. LeRoux is not commenting on the deal, but the text of it, as filed by Mr. Ben Menashe, reads that the Montrealer is to "promote policies of the United States favourable to the business activities of the principal," Mr. LeRoux, who "intends to become involved in the leasing of real estate for farming and other purposes in Zimbabwe."
To that end, the FARA filings indicate that Mr. LeRoux made a series of large payments to the Montreal consultancy beginning on March 16, 2007, and ending on Jan. 30.
The amount totals almost $14-million, and it's unclear from the documents whether any land has been leased and why so much money was being paid so quickly. It is also unclear precisely who is pocketing the millions if Mr. Ben Menashe, who said he still visits Zimbabwe, is not.