Ari Ben Menashe, the key state witness in the treason trial of Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai, continued to dodge questions from Tsvangirai’s lead lawyer George Bizos who also appeared to be playing to the gallery.
Ben Menashe said he had no contact with the government of Zimbabwe before signing the contract with them on 10 January 2002.
He could not provide financial account statements between his company, Dickens and Madson, and the government of Zimbabwe because of pending lawsuits against the company by the MDC and an Australian company.
Ben Menashe could not provide certificates of registration of his company claiming they were available in the public domain.
According to the United States embassy Bizos was also playing to the court.
“He frequently turns towards the journalists when Ben-Menashe goes off on a tangent and he has turned towards his clients and smiled when Ben-Menashe gets unnerved. Garwe cautioned Bizos against unnecessarily provoking Ben-Menashe,” the embassy said.
Viewing cable 03HARARE360, TSVANGIRAI TRIAL: BEN-MENASHE CROSS-EXAMINATION
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 HARARE 000360
NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR J. FRAZER
LONDON FOR C. GURNEY
PARIS FOR C. NEARY
NAIROBI FOR T. PFLAUMER
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/20/2013
SUBJECT: TSVANGIRAI TRIAL: BEN-MENASHE CROSS-EXAMINATION
REF: A. HARARE 313
¶B. HARARE 259
Classified By: POLITICAL OFFICER KIMBERLY JEMISON FOR REASONS 1.5 (B) A
Summary. 1. (C) The treason trial of Movement for
Democratic Change (MDC) officials Morgan Tsvangirai, Welshman
Ncube, and Renson Gasela entered its fourteenth day on
February 20. Since February 12, defense counsel has
continued its intensive cross-examination of the state’s star
witness, Ari Ben-Menashe. Lead defense attorney George Bizos
tried to discredit Ben-Menashe by highlighting the
inconsistencies in his testimony about his U.S. contacts,
financial transactions between Dickens & Madson (DM) and the
Government of Zimbabwe (GOZ), details of the second and third
meetings with the defendants, and the legitimacy of DM.
Presiding Judge Paddington Garwe has tried to assert his
authority more by cutting short Ben-Menashe,s tirades and
ordering him to listen to and answer Bizos,s questions
succinctly. Nonetheless, Ben-Menashe has continued to engage
in outrageous behavior in court, dismissing questions he did
not want to answer and using inappropriate language. End
¶2. (U) Bizos resumed his cross-examination on the afternoon
of February 12, after the issue of the contract with the
Government of Zimbabwe was resolved that same morning (see
reftel). Bizos began by asking Ben-Menashe whether he had
received payment for the videotape of the third meeting, a
charge Ben-Menashe vehemently denied, claiming he never
received money “personally”. Ben-Menashe maintained that he
passed on the money to the people who were in charge of
creating the videotape. Bizos also asked if Ben-Menashe had
received money from the GOZ before signing the January 10,
2002 contract. Ben-Menashe maintained that he had had no
contact with the GOZ prior to the contract.
¶3. (U) On February 19, Bizos revisited the issue of payment
when he asked Ben-Menashe about several documents (financial
account statements, contracts, and certificate of
registration) the defense asked him to produce for the court.
Ben-Menashe had none of the documents, claiming that some of
the finacial account information, which might have shown
financial transactions between DM and the GOZ, had been
destroyed. He also claimed he could not get some of the
requested bank information because of pending lawsuits
against DM by the MDC and an Australian company.
Discrediting Ben-Menashe and Dickens & Madson
¶4. (U) Throughout the week, Bizos chipped away at
Ben-Menashe,s credibility. On February 13, Bizos attempted
to introduce evidence that would attest to Ben-Menashe,s
soiled reputation and lack of credibility. The evidence was
a list of documents from press sources and a former employee.
The prosecutor tried to get the court to limit challenges to
Ben-Menashe,s credibility. The judge entertained arguments
from both sides as to the various pieces of evidence
submitted by the defense and called for a recess about one
hour into the hearing. Court reconvened after lunch and the
documents were not entered into evidence.
¶5. (U) On February 19, Bizos began his attack of DM by asking
for copies of the certificates of registration and
questioning Ben-Menashe about the principal officers in the
company. Ben-Menashe told Bizos that he would not provide
documents that are available in the public domain. Bizos
informed Ben-Menashe that the defense could not find the
certificates. Bizos said he had reason to believe DM was not
registered. Bizos asked the judge to invoke a section of the
Crimanl Procedure and Evidence Act that gives the judge power
to commit a witness to prison for failing to answer questions
or failing/refusing to produce documents without a just
excuse. Bizos has said that if the certificate of
registration, financial account statements, and a list of
employees were not produced, then the defense would oppose
Ben-Menashe’s requests to leave the country prior to
completion of his testimony.
¶6. (U) Bizos,s next line of questioning concerned the
principal officers in DM. According to Ben-Menashe, there
are only four high-level people in the company: Alexander
Legault as shareholder and financial officer, David Sullivan
as accountant, Ben-Menashe as shareholder, and Francis Lang
as director. When asked to explain the day-to-day activities
of the person in the directorship position, Ben-Menashe could
not provide an answer.
¶7. (U) During the afternoon session on February 13, Bizos
began to question Ben-Menashe about his contacts in the US
Government and about the various meetings with the MDC.
Ben-Menashe first claimed to know a high-level person in the
State Department but refused to name the person. Later he
denied knowing anyone in the State Department, claiming he
only knew a high-level U.S. government official. Bizos
resumed this line of questioning during the February 14
afternoon session but Ben-Menashe avoided answering the
questions. Ben-Menashe maintained that Tsvangirai claimed to
have contacted and won the support of the U.S. Government and
the CIA in the coup plot. Bizos asked Ben Menashe that if
Tsvangirai had already contacted the U.S. and taken other
preparatory steps, then contracting DM was unnecessary.
Ben-Menashe had no comment.
The Second and Third Meetings
¶8. (U) On February 18, Bizos focused on a fifteen-page typed
transcript of the audio recording of the second meeting
between Tsvangirai and Ben-Menashe in London, prepared by DM
employee Tara Thomas, who was in attendance. To 90 percent
of Bizos,s questions, Ben-Menashe responded that he did not
remember if the cited text was said. Perhaps embarrassed by
the fact that Tsvangirai not once discussed Mugabe’s
assassination in the transcript, Ben-Menashe discredited
Thomas,s transcript, saying she picked out words here and
there but that the tape was inaudible and the transcript did
not reflect the totality of the meeting. (NOTE: On February
13, Ben-Menashe claimed he could not remember whom in the GOZ
he had given the audiotape to nor could he remember who had
transcribed the tape. END NOTE.)
¶9. (U) On February 20, Bizos again asked Ben-Menashe
questions about the third, infamous meeting in Montreal. In
response to Bizos’s questions, Ben-Menashe’s standard answer
was that he did not remember. When asked if the purpose of
the third meeting was to furnish evidence of a planned coup
d’etat, Ben-Menashe responded in the affirmative. On
February 13, Ben-Menashe maintained that he was never
interested in having the MDC as a client and that he only met
with them because he wanted to report the plot to the
appropriate authorities in the U.S., Canada, and Zimbabwe.
Ben-Menashe, Garwe, and Bizos’s Conduct
¶10. (C) Ben-Menashe continues to act outrageously in the
witness box, regularly denigrating Bizos when asked questions
he doesn’t want to answer, interrupting Garwe and Bizos, and
demonstrating a short fuse. Garwe appears to be getting tired
of Ben-Menashe,s antics and has begun directing him to
answer questions directly and precisely. Garwe even shook
his head after he had to stop Ben-Menashe in the middle of a
tirade to ask him to answer the question, to which
Ben-Menashe asked, “What was the question?”
¶11. (C) Bizos is also playing to the court. He frequently
turns towards the journalists when Ben-Menashe goes off on a
tangent and he has turned towards his clients and smiled when
Ben-Menashe gets unnerved. Garwe cautioned Bizos against
unnecessarily provoking Ben-Menashe.
¶12. (U) It appears as though most interested parties are
being admitted to the courtroom to witness the trial.
Diplomats and independent journalists are present for every
session, and members of the general public are still being
granted access. The standing room only crowds have dwindled
somewhat, and there are a few empty seats at each session.