Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Och-Ziff Fixer's Business Had Corruption at 'Core,' U.S. Says

  • Gabonese man pleaded guilty to acting as fund’s Africa fixer
  • Mebiame admitted paying millions of dollars in bribes

A Gabonese man who admitted earning $7 million while helping a unit of Och-Ziff Capital Management Group secure mining rights in Africa deserves at least five years behind bars, prosecutors said.

Samuel Mebiame, the son of the former Prime Minister of Gabon, bribed government officials in Africa for lucrative rights to untapped resources on behalf of a joint venture that Och-Ziff helped create, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, New York, said. Mebiame, who led a luxurious lifestyle that included driving a Bentley and traveling the world, is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis on May 5.

"Corruption was at the core" of Mebiame’s business, prosecutor James Loonam said in an April 28 filing. When a co-conspirator asked him to attend anti-corruption training, Mebiame refused, saying "it would kill his business if he could not pay government officials," according to the filing.
The result is that Mebiame helped deprive citizens of some of the world’s poorest nations of proceeds from developing mining rights, Loonam said. For instance, Mebiame paid more than $4 million in bribes to officials in Niger to help the Och-Ziff unit win uranium-mining rights, according to the U.S. He also got senior officials in Guinea to rewrite mining codes by plying them with perks that included a Mercedes-Benz and use of a private Airbus jet, and he paid for a Chad official’s Parisian shopping sprees in exchange for winning access to that country’s mineral resources, the U.S. said.

"He did not play a tertiary role,” Loonam wrote. “He directly arranged and paid millions of dollars in bribes and was personally compensated millions of dollars for his criminal activity. As a result, the governments corruptly awarded assets to the mining company, which never developed the assets.”

Difficult Childhood

In his own sentencing memo, Mebiame asked to be spared prison, arguing he overcame a difficult childhood because he was sent to boarding school in Paris by his "pre-occupied" diplomat father. His crimes are outweighed by a history of good deeds in Gabon and other African countries, defense lawyer Larry Krantz said. 

Mebiame helped negotiate the release of four French hostages in 2008, said Krantz, who’s asked that Mebiame be sentenced to the nine months he’s already served in jail. Mebiame’s 13-year-old daughter will also suffer if her father is imprisoned, the lawyer said.

Joe Snodgrass, a spokesman for Och-Ziff, declined to comment.

In September, a unit of Och-Ziff pleaded guilty to engaging in a multi-year bribery conspiracy across Africa that benefited the fund. The government’s case included regulatory sanctions against the hedge fund’s founder, Daniel Och, and $415 million in fines and penalties for the unit. 

In January, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission sued two former Och-Ziff executives, alleging they spearheaded a sprawling bribery scheme that involved paying tens of millions of dollars across Africa to win business.

‘Small Player’

Mebiame cited these sanctions as another reason for leniency, arguing he’s the only person to be criminally charged in the case. 

Mebiame’s Miami mansion estimated at $13.5 million.

Source: U.S. Federal Government

"Mr. Mebiame was not the mastermind or the prime beneficiary of this scheme, but rather he was a small player in a ‘sprawling’ scheme to engage in corrupt payments in a host of countries," Krantz said.

The U.S. said Mebiame’s alleged corrupt practices allowed him to buy a $13.5 million Miami mansion and a Paris apartment. As part of his plea agreement with the U.S., Mebiame has agreed not to appeal any prison term of five years or less when he’s sentenced.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.