Toronto, Tuesday, February 26,
trumped-up, Mugabe rival says
video allegedly shows plot to assassinate
Araminta Wordsworth, with files from Sheldon
Alberts in Ottawa
A VIDEOTAPE that was secretly produced in
Montreal -- and which has been criticized as a
sham -- has been used to lay treason charges
against Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of
Zimbabwe's main opposition party.
Mr. Tsvangirai, head of the Movement for
Democratic Change, denounced the charges
yesterday as an obvious effort to smear him just
two weeks before the presidential election in
which he is challenging Robert Mugabe,
"Of course, this is intended to divert
people.... There is no case to answer. It is a
conspiracy. My campaign will go on," he told
reporters after being questioned by police for
Mr. Tsvangirai said Mr. Mugabe and his ruling
ZANU-PF party were trying to convince people of
his guilt ahead of the election and any future
Mr. Tsvangirai is considered by analysts to
have mounted the sternest challenge yet to the
78-year-old Mr. Mugabe's 22-year grip on
The tape at the
centre of the charges is a grainy video shot
secretly by Ari Ben-Menashe, president
of Dickens & Madson, a Montreal-based
political consultancy that has worked as a
lobbyist for the Mugabe government.
Mr. Ben-Menashe said he planted a hidden
camera in his office and filmed Mr. Tsvangirai
on Dec. 4. Though the poor quality of the tape
makes it impossible to identify the
participants, Mr. Ben-Menashe said it shows Mr.
Tsvangirai plotting to assassinate Mr.
The MDC said it was approached by Dickens
& Madson, who asked if its consultants could
help raise the party's profile in North America.
It did not know of the firm's links with Mr.
"At no stage during the first three meetings
was the issue of elimination or assassination
ever discussed," Mr. Tsvangirai said.
"At the fourth meeting, secretly filmed in
Montreal, Ben-Menashe and his team raised the
issue of elimination and kept on asking strange
questions." He added he became suspicious of the
firm's motives and walked out.
The resulting eight-minute tape has been
airing frequently on Zimbabwean state-run
television since it was first broadcast by
Australian network SBS.
It shows an overhead view of four men sitting
around a boardroom table. The faces of the men,
including the one named as Mr. Tsvangirai, are
In addition, the
tape as broadcast bears strong evidence of
having been heavily edited.
Looking at the video timing clock that
appears in the corner of each frame makes it
clear that parts have been "rearranged," said
the independent Mass Media Project of Zimbabwe,
an independent media monitoring group.
The group said that state television devoted
35 minutes of its nightly news over four nights
to the alleged conspiracy. The opposition's
official denial received 15 seconds of air time
on the same news program in the same period.
Mr. Ben-Menashe was in Harare on the weekend
for meetings with police and members of the
Central Intelligence Organization, and
interviews with selected journalists.
Bill Graham, Canada's Minister of
Foreign Affairs, warned yesterday that Zimbabwe
could be expelled from the Commonwealth and face
sanctions if Mr. Mugabe demonstrates he is
"beyond redemption" by rigging the
"Our intention is to make sure that if these
elections are not fair and free that we deal
with Zimbabwe at the Commonwealth," he said
yesterday. "I consider that if we don't, the
integrity of the Commonwealth is at stake."
Mr. Graham said the government's decision to
charge Mr. Tsvangirai with high treason was not,
in itself, enough to trigger punishment by the
"If he had arrested [Mr. Tsvangirai]
and actually physically interfered with his
ability to conduct his campaign, I would agree
it would be much more serious."
DESPITE the Zimbabwean media's description of
Mr. Ben-Menashe as "a man of indisputable
credibility," the Dickens & Madson president
and his associate Alexander Legault are
no strangers to controversy.
U.S. authorities say Mr. Legault masterminded
securities fraud in Florida and has been
fighting extradition for 18 years, the
Montreal Gazette reported. In addition,
another Montreal company owned by the pair is
named in a series of civil lawsuits alleging
breach of contract or
In 1989, Mr. Ben-Menashe was
arrested in the United
States on charges that he tried to sell
military planes to Iran.
After arguing that he had the backing of the
U.S. and Israeli governments, Mr. Ben-Menashe
was acquitted and wrote a tell-all book about
his years in Israeli
He later moved to Canada, married a Montreal
lawyer and became a Canadian citizen.
© Copyright 2002