Former Heads of New York-Based Non-Governmental Organization Charged with Bribing Elected Officials of the Marshall Islands Extradited to the United States from Thailand
Two Marshall Island nationals, Cary Yan, 50, and Gina Zhou, 34, arrived in the United States today after being extradited from Thailand. Yan and Zhou are charged with allegedly violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), money laundering, and conspiracy to commit those offenses in connection with a scheme to bribe elected officials of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) in exchange for passing certain legislation. They are expected to make their initial court appearance on Sept. 6 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
“Yan and Zhou allegedly engaged in a multi-year scheme to bribe elected officials in the Marshall Islands and to corrupt the legislative process,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “The department is committed to prosecuting individuals who participate in international corruption and undermine the integrity of democratic institutions and the free marketplace.”
On Aug. 10, 2020, Yan and Zhou were charged in a five-count indictment with one count of conspiring to violate the FCPA, two counts of violating the FCPA, one count of conspiring to commit international money laundering, and one count of committing international money laundering. The indictment alleges, beginning in or around 2016 and continuing until at least August 2020, Yan and Zhou, as the president and assistant to the president, respectively, of a New York-based non-governmental organization (NGO), conspired with others in connection with a multi-year bribery and money laundering scheme. Yan and Zhou allegedly offered and paid tens of thousands of dollars in bribes to elected RMI officials – including, among others, members of the RMI legislature – in exchange for supporting legislation creating a semi-autonomous region within the RMI called the Rongelap Atoll Special Administrative Region (RASAR) that would benefit the business interests of the defendants and their associates. The indictment alleges that the defendants carried out the bribery and money laundering scheme using the New York NGO, including the physical use of its headquarters in Manhattan, to meet with and communicate with RMI officials.
“As alleged, Cary Yan and Gina Zhou's bribery scheme was designed to influence and manipulate the legislative process of the Republic of the Marshall Islands in order to benefit themselves and their associates financially,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York. “Yan and Zhou's bribes blatantly flouted the sovereignty of the Republic of the Marshall Islands and its legislature, and the dedicated investigative work carried out by this Office and our partners signals that the Southern District of New York will not tolerate those who openly violate the integrity of democratic processes.”
“As alleged, the defendants conducted multiple illegal activities to benefit their personal interests at the expense of the people of the Marshall Islands,” said Assistant Director-in-Charge Michael J. Driscoll of the FBI New York Field Office. “The FBI, along with our global law enforcement partners, is committed to bringing to justice those who seek to use corruption and fraud as a means of doing business - regardless of where in the world they are located.”
On Nov. 17, 2020, Yan and Zhou were arrested in Thailand at the request of the United States pursuant to a bilateral extradition treaty. After extradition proceedings concluded in Thai courts, the Royal Thai Government ordered the defendants’ extradition, which resulted in their arrival in the United States on Sept. 2.
If convicted, Yan and Zhou each face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for each count of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering and up to five years in prison for each count of violating the FCPA and conspiring to violate the FCPA. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Assistant Attorney General Polite and U.S. Attorney Williams commended and thanked the Royal Thai Government for its assistance in the extradition of Yan and Zhou to the United States. The Embassy of the United States in Bangkok and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided substantial assistance in securing the arrest and extradition of the defendants.
The FBI’s New York Field Office investigated the case. The U.S. Marshals Service transported Yan and Zhou from Thailand to the United States.
Assistant Chief Gerald M. Moody, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Fraud Section and Deputy Chief of the Southern District of New York’s Criminal Division Daniel C. Richenthal, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Hagan Scotten, Lara Pomerantz and Derek Wikstrom for the Southern District of New York are prosecuting the case.
The Criminal Division’s Fraud Section is responsible for investigating and prosecuting all FCPA matters. Additional information about the department’s FCPA enforcement efforts can be found at www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/fcpa.
An indictment is merely an allegation. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.