Bribery scandal rocks Marshall Islands
By Pacific Island Times News Staff
Two naturalized Marshallese citizens, who were accused of bribing Marshallese lawmakers into passing a proposal for the creation of a business zone in Rongelap, have been extradited to the United States.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced the extradition after a federal court in New York unsealed the indictment on Sept, 2.
The justice department charged Cary Yan and Gina Zhou with violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, money laundering and conspiracy to commit both.
According to the unsealed indictment, Yan and Zhou bribed Marshall Islands officials to pass legislation that would benefit their own business interests.
Yan and Zhou allegedly handed over $7,000 to "a close relative" of an unidentified Marshallese legislator, pledging additional money in the future and “specifying that this money would be used to induce and influence other RMI legislators to support the RASAR resolution.”
On March 20, 2020, the Marshall Islands parliament passed a resolution— the support of legislators who allegedly received bribes from the couple— endorsing the creation of Rongelap Atoll Special Administrative Region or “RASAR,” also known as the Rongelap Special Economic Zone.
Yan and Zhou were arrested in Thailand on Nov. 16, 2020, where they were held until they were extradited and arrived in New York.
Yan was the president of a New York City-based non-governmental organization, which was not identified in the charge sheet. Zhou was his assistant.
Yan and Zhou allegedly intended to obtain business from creation of the proposed semi-autonomous region by allowing the NGO to attract investors to participate in economic and social development projects.
“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,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said.
In 2018, the NGO hosted a conference in Hong Kong to announce the launch of the RASAR.
Marshallese officials attended the conference.
Yan and Zhou said the RASAR bill 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’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 violate the integrity of democratic processes,” Williams said.