of Pat Robertson's Latest Frauds
MUM ON ROBERTSON DIAMOND MINE OPERATION PROBE
investigation of televangelist Pat Robertson's activities in Africa
is now over, but state officials are sitting on the final report
pending a review by attorneys, reports the Virginian-Pilot newspaper.
The probe focused on possible inappropriate activities involving
Robertson's Operation Blessing outreach, and a private corporation
he operated known as the African Development Co. Based in Zaire,
the firm was established by Robertson during the rule of the late
dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. The two men established close ties, and
Mobutu wined and dined Robertson during one visit to the country;
ADC also received vast forestry and mineral concessions, but the
diamond mining operation eventually went bankrupt. Mobutu, after
a quarter-century of iron fisted rule, died last year in exile from
cancer. He left Zaire bankrupt and impoverished, and since 1994
had even been considered persona non grata in the United States.
April, 1997 two pilots who worked for Operation Blessing charged
that planes linked to Robertson and his ministry flew mostly to
haul equipment for ADC's private diamond operation. Robert Hinkle,
the chief pilot told reporter Bill Sizemore that of about 40 flights
within Zaire during the half-year period he was there, "Only
one or at most two" were related to the humanitarian mission
of Operation Blessing. The rest were "mining-related."
got over there and we had 'Operation Blessing' painted on the tails
of the airplanes, Hinkle told the Virginian-Pilot, "but we
were doing no humanitarian relief at all. We were just supplying
the miners and flying the dredges from Kinshasa out to Tdshikapa."
so, that activity could jeopardize Operation Blessing's special
tax exempt status. It also highlights Robertson's network of projects
and corporations mixing religion, politics and private business.
story in the Pilot prompted complaints by Virginia State Senator
Janet Howell (D-Reston) and an investigation by the Virginia Office
of Consumer Affairs. At issue is Operation Blessings charity exemption
from the 4.5% retail sales tax, as well as a break from the 3% motor
vehicle tax and the 2% aircraft sales tax.
aspect of the Robertson probe is the role of Virginia Attorney General
Mark Earley, and Governor Jim Gilmore. Both men received campaign
contributions from Robertson during the 1997 statewide elections;
in addition, Robertson was a member of Gilmore's transition-advisory
team. Earley received $35,000 from Mr. Robertson, and Gilmore $50,000.
Contributions to the Gilmore campaign from other associates of Robertson
also attracted public concern.
to the Pilot newspaper, the Attorney General's office is keeping
the report on Robertson and Operation blessing sealed, insisting
that while the investigation is over the contents still remain as
"working paper" which are shielded by attorney-client
privileges. Sen. Howell, expressing irritation by the continued
secrecy, said that the investigatory process has dragged on "long
enough," and noted that the tax exemption status for Operation
Blessing is up for renewal again next year. "We need to have
the facts," Howell added.
official, State delegate Barnie K. Day said that the "working
papers" seal being used by the Attorney General was a ploy
widely employed in Virginia. "There's nothing that says you
can't be open," said Day, adding that the present laws permit
"officials (to) hide things if they want to, but people who
want to be open can still do it." The Pilot added that Del.
Day suggested that the Attorney General should make public the results
of the Operation Blessing investigation "to avoid any suggestion
of favoritism toward Robertson."
Questions: Evangelism or Just Doing Business?
was President and sole stock holder of African Development Co. which
was chartered in Bermuda (a center for offshore banking-corporate
activity) in June, 1992. In the summer and early fall of 1994, Robertson
began soliciting support for the Operation Blessing outreach in
Africa on his Christian Broadcasting Network, and eventually dispatched
six volunteer teams of medical personnel to treat refugees from
Rwanda. Donations were asked from viewers in order to fund a "Flying
August, 1996, the Operation Blessing ministry purchased three DeHaviland
Caribou planes. The ministry retained ownership of two of the cargo
transports, while a third was transferred to another Robertson corporation
known as Africa Air. What happened next has prompted considerable
speculation. A month after purchasing the airplanes, all three (painted
with the Operation Blessing name) were flown to Zaire, and reportedly
put up for sale. From September, 1994 until February, 1995, the
three planes were allegedly then used mostly in in-country flights
ferrying mining equipment and support materials used by African
Development Corp. According to the chief pilot, only two flights
were related to any humanitarian enterprise; they consisted of a
medicine delivery, and retrieval of stranded missionaries.
October, 1994, Operation Blessing purchased a Lockheed L-1011 and
began outfitting that plane as its "flying hospital."
But the two Caribou planes, unsold and still linked to Operation
Blessing, reportedly continued working mostly on behalf of ADC.
was going on during this time period with Robertson and Mobutu?
The African strongman had been in charge since 1964 when, with the
help of the Central Intelligence Agency, he emerged successfully
in the civil war which had torn apart the nation, formerly Republic
of the Congo. In 1971, Mobutu renamed the country Zaire, and turned
it into a base of operations for efforts to fuel the civil war in
neighboring Angola. He quickly developed a reputation for ruthlessness
and megalomania, renaming himself Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku wa za Banga,
"the all-powerful warrior who, because of his enduring and
inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest leaving
fire in his wake." For twenty years, his domestic policy outraged
human rights advocates, and by 1993 his shoddy record resulted in
the withdrawal of economic assistance from France, Belgium and even
the U.S. In 1994, the U.S. Department of State charged that Mobutu
was behind massive violations of human rights including torture,
murder, censorship and religious persecution.
this time, Mobutu also systematically drained Zaire of its money
and natural resources, embezzling up to $6 billion dollars which
he transferred to accounts in Switzerland and Belgium. In one year
alone according to the World Bank, $400 million-- a quarter of the
nation's entire export revenues -- mysteriously vanished off the
books of the government run mining conglomerate. Mobutu was even
dubbed the "President of Kleptocracy" for his thieving
and predatory manners.
didn't stop Robertson, though, from either defending the dictator
or seeking financial gain in Zaire. Robertson continually tried
to portray Mobutu as a loyal US ally in the war against international
communism. He also emerged as Mobutu's close friend, and probably
his most valuable asset in a deceptive campaign to maintain his
stature with some ruling circles in the United States. Robertson
was wined-and-dined by Mobutu on the dictator's presidential yacht,
and entertained at one of his lavish estates. Robertson received
extensive lumber and mining concessions along the upper Zaire River.
He also operated a 50,000 acre farm outside of the capital city,
with this, African Development Corp. lost money and had to be shut
down. Robertson nonetheless maintained close ties with Mobutu, orchestrating
a public relations effort in the United States to rehabilitate the
dictator's image and obtain a Visa permit. In 1996, as rebels under
the command of Laurent Kabila were closing in on Mobutu's last strongholds,
Robertson reportedly dispatched a personal representative "offering
his assistance and cooperation," according to the Pilot.
Mobutu Groupie, "Schmoozing With Dictators"
latest probe into Robertson's blending of politics, evangelism and
business should also call into the question the televangelist's
newly found commitment to human rights, especially as an ardent
spokesperson for the Freedom From Religious Persecution Act.
has been using his "700 Club" program to constantly hit
what he terms "religious persecution of Christians," particularly
in Islamic countries -- an obstacle to his goal of a vast, worldwide
evangelism effort by the year 2000. And Robertson's Christian Coalition
has been an adamant supporter of FFRPA on Capitol Hill as well.
does his enthusiastic boosting of FFRPA translate into a general
commitment for human rights? Critics say no, especially in light
of Robertson's close relationship in Africa, Asia and elsewhere
with despotic ruling elites and dictators like Mobutu Sese Seko.
It seems that, at least in Zaire, the lure of diamonds outshone
the prospect of supporting human rights and political democracy.