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From The DOJ’s Docket

Lorenzo Plea

This October 2015 post [1] highlighted alleged bribery at the United Nations charging John Ashe (described as having various positions at the U.N. including serving as the Permanent Representative of Antigua to the U.N. and recently serving as the President of the U.N. General Assembly) and others (including Francis Lorenzo, Ng Lap Seng and Jeff Yin) with a variety of criminal offenses based on allegations that payments were made to Ashe in connection with a U.N. sponsored conference center in Macau, China and to influence business interactions with Antiguan government officials.

The post noted that although the alleged bribery was charged under 18 USC 666 (theft or bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds) on account of the U.N. receiving U.S. federal government funds, Ashe was likely a “foreign official” under the FCPA given that the definition of “foreign official” includes individuals associated with “public international organizations” and the U.N. has been designated [2] as such an organization.

It was further noted that the alleged payors of the bribes to Ashe were predominately naturalized U.S. citizens subject to the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and that the Chinese national defendant was alleged to have engaged in conduct in the U.S. likely sufficient to satisfy the dd-3 prong of the FCPA.

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As highlighted in this prior post [4], in November 2016 the DOJ filed a superseding indictment adding Foreign Corrupt Practices Act charges against Ng Lap Seng and Jeff Yin. As highlighted in this prior post [5], in April 2017, Yin pleaded guilty, but only to Count 7 of the superseding indictment which charged conspiracy to commit tax offenses.

Recently the DOJ filed (like it previously did against Seng and Yin) a superceding information against Francis Lorenzo charging him with conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and FCPA anti-bribery violations, among other charges.

In late April, Lorenzo pleaded guilty to the FCPA and other charges.

Thiam Conviction

As highlighted in this previous post [6], in December 2016, the DOJ announced that “Mahmoud Thiam, the former Minister of Mines and Geology of the Republic of Guinea was arrested and charged … with laundering proceeds from bribes that he allegedly received from two Chinese companies that are part of a Chinese conglomerate in exchange for official actions he took to secure valuable mining rights for the conglomerate.”

As previously noted, what is interesting is that Thiam is a U.S. citizen.

Last week, following a seven-day trial, Thiam was convicted of one count of transacting in criminally derived property and one count of money laundering for his role in a scheme to launder bribes paid to him by executives of China Sonangol International Ltd. (China Sonangol) and China International Fund, SA (CIF). As stated in this [7] DOJ release: “the funds that were laundered were proceeds derived through violations of Guinean bribery laws.” The release further states:

“According to evidence presented at trial, China Sonangol, CIF and their subsidiaries signed a series of agreements with Guinea that gave them lucrative mining rights in Guinea, and Thiam influenced the Guinean government’s decision to enter into those agreements while serving as Guinea’s Minister of Mines and Geology from 2009 to 2010.

The evidence showed that Thiam participated in a scheme to launder money from 2009 to 2011, during which time China Sonangol and CIF paid him $8,500,000 to a bank account in Hong Kong. Thiam then transferred approximately $3,900,000 to the United States through bank accounts and other means, and used the money to pay for luxury goods and other expenses, according to trial evidence. To conceal the bribe payments, Thiam falsely claimed to banks in Hong Kong and the United States that he was employed as a consultant and that the money was income from the sale of land which he earned before he was a minister, according to the evidence.

The purpose of the bribes, according to the evidence presented at trial, was to obtain substantial rights and interests in natural resources in Guinea, including the right to be the first and strategic shareholder with Guinea of a national mining company into which Guinea had to, among other things, transfer all of its stakes in various mining projects and future mining permits or concessions that the government decided to develop on its own. China Sonangol and CIF, through their subsidiaries, also obtained exclusive and valuable rights to conduct business operations in a broad range of sectors of the Guinean economy, including mining, according to the trial evidence.”

In the release, Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco stated:

“As a high-level Minister in Guinea, Thiam sold out his country and then used U.S. banks and real estate to hide millions in bribes paid to him by a Chinese conglomerate. Corruption is a global disease that undermines the rule of law everywhere. The Justice Department is committed to investigating and prosecuting those who commit these crimes and use the U.S. financial system and free marketplace to conceal and benefit from their crimes.”

Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim for the Southern District of New York stated:

“As a New York federal jury has now found, Thiam abused his official government position to enrich himself at the expense of one of Africa’s poorest countries. Thiam laundered the proceeds of his bribery scheme into the United States to fund his lavish lifestyle, buying a multi-million dollar estate in Dutchess County, and paying for private schools for his children. Thanks to the work of the FBI, Thiam’s scheme was exposed and he was swiftly convicted.”

Assistant Director Stephen Richardson of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division stated:

“This conviction showcases the FBI’s commitment to combatting corruption domestically and abroad. Thiam’s misuse of his official position for personal gain violated federal law and the trust of the Guinean people. I applaud the excellent work that our employees put into this case and thank all of our partners who helped bring Thiam to justice.”

Assistant Director in Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. of the FBI’s New York Field Office stated:

“The conviction of Thiam demonstrates that no one who violates public office is above the law when they are involved in corruption. The FBI’s International Corruption Squads were established to take on foreign corruption cases like this that use money laundering and lies to deceive the trust in public office.”

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