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In a recent speech before the Atlantic Council Inter-American Dialogue Event, Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco discussed the importance of foreign law enforcement cooperation in FCPA investigations. Blanco focused his remarks on cooperation between the United States and Brazil and also touched on the Justice Department’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative.
Blanco noted: “As transnational crime continues to grow in scope and complexity, we increasingly find ourselves looking across the globe to collect evidence and identify witnesses necessary to build cases, requiring greater and closer collaboration with our foreign counterparts. As a result, we find ourselves relying more and more on the use of the various mechanisms of international cooperation with our foreign partners that permit for evidence exchange, fugitive apprehension, and asset recovery.”
Blanco’s remarks highlight the DOJ’s continued focus on international and transnational conduct with the cooperation of foreign law enforcement agencies. He concluded: “We at the Department of Justice will continue, like we have for years, pushing forward hard against corruption, wherever it is, and we welcome our fellow counterparts around the world who are fighting this important fight against corruption.”
The U.S. Department of Justice announced Friday, July 14, that prosecutors filed a civil complaint seeking to seize $144 million in assets that were allegedly the proceeds of corruption in Nigeria and were laundered in and through the U.S. According to the complaint, from 2011 to 2015, Nigerian businessmen Kolawole Akanni Aluko and Olajide Omokore bribed Nigeria’s former Minister for Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, who oversaw Nigeria’s state-owned oil company. In return, Alison-Madueke steered lucrative oil contracts to companies owned by Aluko and Omokore. The proceeds were then allegedly used to purchase assets subject to seizure and forfeiture, including a $50 million New York City condominium and an $80 million yacht.
“The United States is not a safe haven for the proceeds of corruption,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Blanco. “The complaint announced today demonstrates the Department’s commitment to working with our law enforcement partners around the globe to trace and recover the proceeds of corruption, no matter the source. Corrupt foreign officials and business executives should make no mistake: if illicit funds are within the reach of the United States, we will seek to forfeit them and to return them to the victims from whom they were stolen.”
The suit was part of the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative.
Transparency International, a German nonprofit that tracks global corruption and perceptions of corruption, has published People and Corruption: Asia Pacific – Global Corruption Barometer. In what the organization calls “the most extensive survey of its kind,” the group spent a year and a half interviewing over 21,000 people living in the Asia Pacific region as a litmus test for corruption in the area. The 38-page report found considerable differences in bribery rates between surveyed countries; for example, while Japan weighed in at 0.2%, a staggering 69% of people surveyed in India indicated they had paid a bribe in the past year in exchange for public services. People across the surveyed region agreed that police were the most corrupt part of public services. While Australians expressed the “most positive” outlook on corruption, people in Malaysia and Vietnam felt the least positive overall, and people in China “were most likely to think the level of corruption had increased recently.” The report outlines three key recommendations, encouraging governments to “make good on promises,” “stop bribery in public services,” and “encourag[e] more people to report corruption.”
Gabonese National Pleads Guilty to Bribing Government Officials in Africa in Connection with Och-Ziff Mining Operations
On December 9, 2016, the son of a former Prime Minister of Gabon pleaded guilty to conspiring to make corrupt payments to government officials in Africa in violation of the FCPA. The Gabonese national worked as a consultant for a joint venture between mining company Och-Ziff Capital Management Group LLC (Och-Ziff) and an entity incorporated in the Turks and Caicos. The DOJ charged him with conspiring to pay approximately $3 million in bribes to high-level government officials in Niger, as well as providing them with luxury cars, in order to obtain uranium mining concessions. Similarly, the DOJ also charged him with bribing a high-ranking government official in Chad with luxury foreign travel for the official and his wife in order to obtain a uranium mining concession there. In addition, the DOJ charged him with bribing government officials in Guinea with cash, the use of private jets, and a luxury car in order to obtain confidential government information.
The guilty plea comes on the heels of Och-Ziff’s $412 million settlement with the DOJ and SEC to resolve related criminal and civil charges of violating the FCPA in connection with the bribery of high-level government officials across Africa. The settlement represented the fourth largest FCPA financial penalty at the time. Och-Ziff’s CEO and former CFO have also previously settled related civil allegations. Prior Scorecard coverage of Och-Ziff’s settlement with the DOJ and SEC may be found here.
On June 15, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York unsealed a 2013 plea agreement under which American FIFA Executive Committee Member Chuck Blazer secretly pleaded guilty to ten charges related to corruption in the soccer organization. Mr. Blazer agreed to forfeit more than $1.9 million, and to pay back-taxes and penalties on more than $11 million in unreported income. According to the plea agreement, Mr. Blazer began cooperating with the DOJs investigation in December of 2011, even agreeing to work undercover making secret recordings. The unsealing of the plea agreement is the latest development in the ongoing fallout from the racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering indictments announced three weeks ago by the DOJ against soccer executives at FIFA and others tied to the organization. Mr. Blazers testimony at his plea hearing in November 2013 was unsealed two weeks ago.
On May 27, a London jury found three employees of Swift Technical Solutions Ltd (Swift) not guilty of corruption charges in connection with alleged corrupt payments to tax officials in Nigeria. The SFO announced the verdict on June 2. As to one defendant, the jury was unable to reach a verdict on one count and was discharged; the SFO informed the Southwark Crown Court that it would not seek to retry that defendant on that count and the court entered a verdict of not guilty. The SFO brought the corruption charges in late 2012 after a two-year investigation related to the tax affairs of a Swift Nigerian subsidiary. The SFO alleged that the Swift employees paid bribes totaling approximately £180,000 in 2008 and 2009 to Nigerian tax officials to avoid, reduce, or delay paying tax on behalf of workers placed by Swift. The alleged bribes occurred before the enactment of the U.K. Bribery Act and allegedly went to agents of two Nigerian Boards of Internal Revenue - the Rivers State Board of Internal Revenue and the Lagos State Board of Internal Revenue. The SFO did not charge Swift with any criminal offense, citing its cooperation with the agency.
The DOJ on May 27 unveiled indictments in one of the most sprawling, long-running alleged corruption rings in recent decades, charging nine executives of FIFA or related soccer governing bodies, as well as five sports marketing or broadcast executives, with racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering. The defendants were charged with offering and accepting over $150 million in bribes and kickbacks over a 24-year period related to the media and marketing rights for soccer tournaments. In addition, the DOJ unsealed guilty pleas previously entered by four individual and two corporate defendants. Seven of the defendants were arrested in Switzerland as a result of U.S. arrest warrants, pending extradition, continuing the trend of international cooperation between U.S. and foreign anti-corruption enforcement agencies. Continuing a different trend, one of the individuals who pleaded guilty was a former FIFA executive who acted as an informer for the DOJ, including by taping key conversations. While the indictment mainly concerned media and marketing rights, at least one reference was made to alleged bribes related to voting for World Cup host countries, and the Swiss government announced an inquiry into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Additional charges appear likely to be brought in the future, whether by the U.S. or other jurisdictions. The U.S.s jurisdiction to bring the charges is also likely to be challenged.