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Press Release

Defendant Sentenced To 42 Months In Prison For Conspiring To Bribe High-Level Officials Of The Republic Of The Marshall Islands

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York

Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that CARY YAN, a/k/a “Hong Hui Yan,” a/k/a “Chen Hong,” was sentenced today by United States District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald to 42 months in prison.  YAN led a multi-year scheme to bribe government officials in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (the “RMI”) to pass legislation that would benefit his business interests.  In addition, on February 16, 2023, Judge Buchwald imposed a sentence of approximately 31 months in prison on YAN’s co-defendant GINA ZHOU, a/k/a “Chaoting Zhou,” a/k/a “Angel Zhou,” for her role in the scheme.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “Bribery of government officials erodes faith in democracy, and the effects of the corruption of government officials, whether in the United States or abroad, are felt worldwide.  The defendants have now been held accountable for their corrupt and illegal conduct.”

According to court filings in the case and publicly available information:

Between 2016 and 2020, YAN and ZHOU sought to develop a semi-autonomous region within a part of the RMI known as the Rongelap Atoll.  The creation of the proposed semi-autonomous region was intended by YAN, ZHOU, and those associated with them to obtain business by, among other things, allowing YAN and ZHOU to attract investors to participate in economic and social development projects that YAN, ZHOU, and others promised would occur in the semi-autonomous region.

As proposed by YAN and ZHOU, the so-called Rongelap Atoll Special Administrative Region (the “RASAR”) would be created by legislation (the “RASAR Bill”) that, if enacted by the RMI legislature, would significantly change the laws on the Rongelap Atoll to attract foreign businesses and investors, such as by lowering or eliminating taxation and relaxing immigration regulations.  YAN and ZHOU offered and provided a series of cash bribes and other incentives to induce RMI legislators to support the RASAR Bill.  When, despite their bribes, the initial effort to pass the RASAR bill failed, YAN and ZHOU sought, unsuccessfully, to oust the then-President of the RMI, who opposed the bill.  And, in 2020, following elections that resulted in a change in presidential administration, YAN and ZHOU resumed their efforts to create the RASAR.  In the course of these renewed efforts, YAN and ZHOU continued to use bribery, and in March 2020, the RMI legislature passed a resolution endorsing the concept of the RASAR, with the support of legislators to whom YAN and ZHOU had provided bribes and other incentives.

In imposing a 42-month sentence on YAN today, Judge Buchwald remarked that there was “no question that bribery of public officials undermines democracy, and that it is important as a matter of general deterrence to take crimes like this seriously. And the Court does.”

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YAN, 51, and ZHOU, 35, both of whom have traveled on passports issued by the RMI, each pled guilty to one count of conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.    

Mr. Williams praised the outstanding investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Mr. Williams additionally thanked the Royal Thai Government, the U.S. Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service, the Embassy of the United States in Bangkok, and the Justice Department's Office of International Affairs for their assistance in securing the arrest and extradition of the defendants.  

The case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Public Corruption Unit and the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Hagan Scotten, Lara Pomerantz, and Derek Wikstrom are in charge of the prosecution.  Assistant Chief Gerald Moody and Trial Attorney Anthony Scarpelli were also assigned to the prosecution.


Nicholas Biase
(212) 637-2600

Updated May 16, 2023

Public Corruption
Press Release Number: 23-180