Gono in US visa violation storm

Dumisani Muleya

RESERVE Bank governor Gideon Gono is caught in a storm of controversy for apparently violating his visa conditions during his recent visit to Washington for an International Monetary Fund (IMF) board meeting after attending a function at the U

S Capitol in the process.

Diplomatic sources said Gono might have breached his visa conditions by attending a reception held in his honour on March 7 at the US Capitol where he discussed a chain of business deals on mining, agro-processing and tourism with delegates.

The sources said Gono clinched deals with US businessmen who want to invest in Zimbabwe, those interested in buying gold bars and platinum, providing funding for mining equipment and building refineries for oil and other minerals in the country.

Gono also managed to negotiate structured finance for the purchase of diamonds and processing of methane gas as well as deals on agricultural chemicals, natural gas and fertiliser. 

While this was helpful to Zimbabwe, it was in breach of his travel conditions, a source said.

“Although the State Department and the Treasury Department have said Gono’s attendance at the function did not violate his visa conditions, we think it in fact did because he got involved in business negotiations,” a senior Western diplomat said.

“This was a violation of visa conditions because he is on the sanctions list which prohibits those under travel and financial restrictions from doing any business with US individuals and companies. Officials in Washington thought the event was merely a dinner party.”

The event was organised by the Los Angeles African American Women Policy Institute, the National Black Leadership Roundtable and the Independence Federal Savings Bank.
 
It was attended by several guests, including California democratic Congress- woman Diane Watson, who is on the international relations subcommittee on Africa, and retired congressman Walter Fauntroy, a close associate of prominent civil rights activist, Martin Luther King.

Although Watson was the “special guest” at the function, her spokesman Bert Hammond said she was only asked to “stop by and that’s the extent of it”. 

According to the invitation, Gono was expected to “present plans and complexities of the economic turnaround of Zimbabwe’s economy”, which is different from a dinner party. He was also expected to speak on mining, agro-processing and tourism.

Sources said although Gono was within the stipulated 25-mile radius from the Washington Monument, his discussion of business issues at the function was a violation of visa restrictions. Gono is on the list of 128 Zimbabwean officials and 33 organisations under US sanctions.

According to the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the sanctions include a ban on any business transaction with blacklisted officials and a freeze on assets they have in the US.

The penalties for violating the sanctions include fines of up to US$250 000 or 10 years in jail.