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Regent Defends Africa Land Deal

July 20, 2012
Telegraph Herald

(AP) IOWA CITY -- Iowa Regent Bruce Rastetter on Thursday defended working with Iowa State University to pursue a large-scale land development in Africa that could have benefited himself financially and blamed growing criticism over his involvement on misinformation and public relations mistakes.

Environmentalists and watchdog groups accuse the prominent Republican businessman of trying to use his influence as a member of the board that governs Iowa State to benefit AgriSol Energy, an investment group he founded and manages that is developing farmland in Tanzania. Iowa State withdrew from the project in February in the face of mounting criticism, and a state ethics board next month will consider a complaint alleging Rastetter had a clear conflict of interest.

In an interview Thursday with The Associated Press, Rastetter said he doesn't think he did anything unethical in pursuing the plan. If it had succeeded, he said it could have not only made profit over time -- he didn't say how much, but tens of millions of dollars were at stake -- but benefited the Tanzanian people by increasing their food supply and spurring economic development. He said his goal was to invest in a country that needs help.

He said AgriSol dropped its plan to develop land it had considered using after the company learned about problems in the Tanzanian government's removal of up to 160,000 Burundi refugees who've been living there. Instead, he said AgriSol is developing uninhabited land elsewhere in Tanzania on a smaller scale.