Och-Ziff Judge Wants Everybody in Bribery to Be Accountable

  • Gabonese man was only person prosecuted in Africa bribe case
  • Samuel Mebiame admitted paying receiving millions in bribes

An exasperated federal judge who sentenced an Och-Ziff Capital Management Group LLC consultant to prison posed a question that prosecutors have yet to satisfactorily answer: Why has no one else been charged in a sprawling bribery case?

U.S. District Court Judge Nicholas Garaufis on Wednesday sentenced Samuel Mebiame, the 43-year-old son of the former prime minister of Gabon, to two years behind bars for paying bribes and acting as a "fixer" to help Och-Ziff with lucrative mining deals in Africa.

But Mebiame’s sentencing was almost a sideshow. In a case that has brought dozens of lawyers to the federal courtroom in Brooklyn, New York, Garaufis demanded to know Wednesday why the hedge fund got a deferred-prosecution deal last year that will result in the dismissal of criminal charges if it stays out of trouble for the next three years.

"It’s time for people who are involved in this kind of behavior to be held accountable, not just one person, but everybody,” Garaufis told the packed courtroom. “I’m not going to hold Mr. Mebiame responsible for all the evils of corruption in Africa."

Och-Ziff Capital Management entered a deferred prosecution agreement in September and agreed to pay more than $400 million in fines, penalties and disgorgements. A unit, OZ Africa Management GP, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to bribe officials of the Democratic Republic of Congo and hasn’t yet been sentenced.

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

Och-Ziff’s Sprawling Africa Bribery Network Laid Out by U.S.

When Garaufis asked prosecutors whether others would be criminally charged in the bribery scheme, Assistant U.S. Attorney James Loonam said, "Not yet," adding later, "We’re working on it."

If the U.S. hopes to deter companies from engaging in foreign bribery, the Justice Department should stop allowing companies to avoid facing criminal charges when merited, Garaufis said.

"I’m sick and tired of lawyers from white-shoe law firms marching into my courtroom and getting a deferred-prosecution agreement for their clients," he said. "We have a law, so someone should go out and enforce it."

Mebiame pleaded guilty in December, admitting he bribed government officials in Africa for rights to natural resources on behalf of a joint venture that Och-Ziff helped create. Payments from Och-Ziff allowed Mebiame to lead a luxurious lifestyle, which included driving a Bentley and traveling the world, prosecutors said.

Prison Term

The U.S. said Mebiame deserved a term of five years in prison, claiming the plot helped deprive citizens of some of Niger, Chad and Guinea of proceeds from developing mining rights in their countries. Mebiame paid more than $4 million in bribes to Niger officials to help the unit win uranium-mining rights, and plied officials in other African nations with expensive cars, use of a private jet and a Parisian shopping spree, Loonam said. 

Garaufis noted the hedge fund dispatched a cadre of high-priced lawyers to defend it during the probe and to court when the deal was announced, adding, "the rest of the people who participated were off on some golf course." Mebiame, meanwhile, who wasn’t part of the overarching bribery scheme, met willingly with U.S. investigators and without a lawyer, the judge said.

Defense lawyer, Larry Krantz, asked that his client be sentenced to the 10 months he’d already served in jail, saying he overcame a difficult childhood because he was sent to boarding school in Paris by his "pre-occupied" diplomat father. After court, he called the sentence that was imposed "fair and balanced."

The case is U.S. v. Mebiame, 16-cr-0627, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn)

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