Hawaii Businesswoman Pleads Guilty to Facilitating Back-Channel Lobbying Campaign to Drop 1MDB Investigation and Remove a Foreign National to China
An American businesswoman with international ties pleaded guilty today for her role in facilitating an unregistered lobbying campaign of the Administration of the President of the United States and the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of foreign principals in exchange for millions of dollars.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, U.S. Attorney Kenji M. Price of the District of Hawaii, Special Agent in Charge Eli S. Miranda of the FBI’s Honolulu Field Office, and Special Agent in Charge Keith A. Bonanno of the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG) made the announcement.
Nickie Mali Lum Davis, 45, of Honolulu, Hawaii, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Leslie E. Kobayashi to one count of aiding and abetting violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
“In exchange for millions of dollars, Nickie Davis and others covertly sought to do the bidding of a foreign government and a foreign principal by attempting to influence senior U.S. government officials regarding a pending Department of Justice investigation and the extradition of a foreign national,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Though Ms. Davis’s efforts were unsuccessful, this case demonstrates how foreign governments seek to advance their agendas in the United States by hiding behind politically influential proxies. Such conduct poses a serious threat to our national security and undermines the integrity of our democracy. The failure to disclose these relationships harms both the American people and government officials by preventing them from accounting for and evaluating the true source of and motivation for foreign lobbying efforts.”
“As this prosecution makes clear, those who line their pockets by facilitating a foreign national’s campaign to lobby our nation’s leaders will not hide under a cloak of anonymity,” said U.S. Attorney Kenji M. Price of the District of Hawaii. “Through our investigations and prosecutions, we will uncover your criminal conduct and hold you accountable.”
“Lum Davis, along with her coconspirators, attempted to influence the Department of Justice’s independence on behalf of a foreign country in exchange for millions of dollars. The OIG worked diligently with the FBI on this matter in order to protect the department’s integrity,“ Keith A. Bonanno, Special Agent in Charge of the DOJ OIG Cyber Investigations Office.
According to admissions made in connection with her plea, Lum Davis admitted that, between March 2017 and January 2018, she and others — including a prominent official of a national political party with ties to the administration — agreed to lobby the President of the United States, the Attorney General, and other high level officials in the administration and the Justice Department to drop civil forfeiture proceedings and a criminal investigation into the embezzlement of billions of dollars from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a strategic investment and development company wholly owned by the Government of Malaysia.
For their efforts, Lum Davis and others were paid millions of dollars by Foreign National A, an alleged architect of the 1MDB scheme. Lum Davis and others also agreed to lobby the Administration and Justice Department on behalf of Foreign National A and People’s Republic of China (PRC) Minister A, to arrange for the removal and return of PRC National A — a dissident of the PRC living in the United States. Lum Davis and others concealed from the officials whom they lobbied that they were working on behalf of Foreign National A and Foreign Minister A and were being paid millions of dollars by Foreign National A with the expectation of tens of millions more in success fees. The lobbying campaigns were ultimately unsuccessful.
Among other actions, Lum Davis and her confederates tried to arrange meetings for PRC Minister A with the Attorney General, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and other high-level officials during the PRC Minister’s visit to the United States in May 2017; provided talking points to the Secretary of State referencing the 1MDB investigation in advance of a meeting between the Secretary of State and the Malaysian Prime Minister in August 2017; and pushed the White House Chief of Staff for a meeting and golf game between the President and the Malaysian Prime Minister to allow the Malaysian Prime Minister to raise resolution of the 1MDB investigation. Lum Davis was paid at least $3 million for her role in the scheme, which she has agreed to forfeit as part of her plea agreement. The national political party official was paid at least $9 million.
George Higginbotham previously pleaded guilty for his role in the scheme on Nov. 30, 2018, in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Sentencing for Lum Davis will be set on a date to be determined.
The Honolulu and Los Angeles Field Divisions of the FBI and Justice Department-OIG investigated the case. Principal Deputy Chief John D. Keller, Deputy Director of Election Crimes Sean F. Mulryne, and Trial Attorneys Nicole R. Lockhart and James C. Mann of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section (PIN), and Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Sorenson of the District of Hawaii are prosecuting the case. Former PIN Trial Attorney Ryan Ellersick also provided significant assistance in the investigation.