Em 2008, enquanto os Estados Unidos tentavam sufocar financeiramente o Zimbabwe, um edge fund norte-americano financiou o regime de Robert Mugabe em 100 milhões de dólares. A revelação foi feita recentemente, numa investigação da revista Bloomberg Businessweek.
At 6 feet 2, James McGee announces his military background through his bearing. His hair is now platinum, his shoulders often thrust back. Raised during the 1950s and ’60s in the shadow of the steel mills of Gary, Ind., McGee served in Vietnam, often sitting in the back of a World War II-era cargo plane stuffed with electronics. As a member of a U.S. Air Force intelligence unit, he listened through headphones for enemy signals or friendly distress calls so he could triangulate their positions. Almost four decades later, as the U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, he again found himself trying to make sense of signals in hostile territory.
In March 2008, McGee met secretly with a member of the political machine of Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe and Africa’s most notorious living despot. In 1979, Mugabe had led one of two guerrilla groups that liberated the former Rhodesia from a white-minority regime, a conflict that left an estimated 30,000 dead. Mugabe won democratic elections in 1980 but soon consolidated his power. He unleashed his North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade on a rival guerrilla force, killing an estimated 20,000, including thousands of civilians. The world was slow to react, but finally, in 2003, the U.S. levied sanctions against Mugabe and his cohorts, threatening any U.S. individuals or companies that backed them. By 2008, when McGee was ambassador, Mugabe and his ruling party had wrecked Zimbabwe’s economy and were on the brink of losing power.
McGee was deeply skeptical of his informant during their first meeting, but he found one of his tips plausible: The dictator was about to lose a first round of elections, and Mugabe knew it. The regime was cash-starved; its currency was virtually worthless outside the country, with Zimbabwe’s central bank printing money 24 hours a day. Inflation had hit an estimated 500,000 percent. The total value of all the currency in the economy was estimated at just $100 million. The election was five days away; defeat for Mugabe posed a viable threat to his rule for the first time.
The informant was right: Mugabe lost that first round to Morgan Tsvangirai. Two weeks after the loss, McGee spoke to the insider again. “He told us the regime was preparing for war,” he recalls. Mugabe’s men were setting up command centers for torture and killing in areas that voted for the opposition, the man told McGee, and regional party leaders like him were told to draw up lists of people to target. The ambassador learned that Mugabe’s government had landed critical funding, totaling $100 million, only days after the vote. The regime even provided hundreds of trucks and other vehicles to ferry militias to regions that favored Tsvangirai.
Reports of violence across the country soon poured into McGee’s embassy as Mugabe’s militias sought to punish opposition activists, drive their supporters from their homes, and intimidate the rest into backing Mugabe in the next round of elections. So he recruited the gardener at the ambassador’s residence in Harare as a body double and sent him out behind the tinted windows of the embassy limousine one dawn. Mugabe’s intelligence agents dutifully fell in line, on a parade to nowhere. About an hour later, McGee climbed into another limo and met diplomats from the U.K., European Union, and other allied missions waiting outside town.
They headed to an old sawmill turned torture center. There, in a local village and at two hospitals, McGee and his entourage, which included journalists, interviewed and photographed victims of the violence. Along the way, McGee barreled past Zimbabwean police trying to stop his tour. Finally, Mugabe’s security services blocked the ambassador’s convoy just outside Harare. When he and others refused to unlock their doors, citing diplomatic immunity, McGee says, some of the officers threatened to burn the diplomats alive in their parked vehicles.
McGee left his SUV and demanded the name of one threatening officer; the man retreated behind the locked door of his own vehicle. So McGee leaned on the dusty hood, pulled out his phone, and started taking pictures of the man through the windshield. “None of them turned out,” he says, “but he didn’t know that.” After about 90 minutes, the convoy was freed.
McGee had witnessed just a fraction of the violence aimed at swinging the second election, scheduled for June 27, 2008. In the weeks leading up to the runoff, there were thousands of casualties reported—and tens of thousands of refugees.
McGee wouldn’t find out for years, but as the attacks were unfolding, and as he worked with Washington to financially isolate Mugabe, a Wall Street consortium provided the $100 million for the dictator’s government. These millions secured the rights to mine platinum, among the most valuable of minerals, from central Zimbabwe. Several firms were involved in the investment, including BlackRock(BLK), GLG Partners, and Credit Suisse (CS). The most vital player was Och-Ziff Capital Management (OZM), the largest publicly traded hedge fund on Wall Street. An Och-Ziff spokesman declined to comment for this article. Now some of its African investments are at the center of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission.”
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