By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
The U.S. State Department has blacklisted a former Marshall Islands president and an incumbent senator who were implicated in an aborted attempt to set up a tax haven on Rongelap Atoll in a scheme orchestrated by a convicted Chinese couple.
Kessai Note, who served as president from 2000 to 2008 and is now the Marshall Islands' transportation and communications minister, and Sen. Mike Halferty were among the 28 foreign nationals designated by the State Department at the opening of the Conference of States Parties to the U.N. Convention Against Corruption this week.
The two Marshall Islands officials were accused of accepting bribes from Cary Yan and his assistant Gina Zhou, who pleaded guilty last year to bribery and money laundering in connection with their elaborate plan to establish an autonomous region called Rongelap Atoll Special Administrative Region, or RASAR.
Note and Halferty were the first Marshall Islands officials to have been identified for their alleged involvement in the controversial RASAR scheme. The U.S. indictment against Yan and Zhou indicated that at least six members of the parliament were under investigation.
In a statement released Tuesday, the State Department said, "The United States is publicly designating Note and Halferty, for their involvement in significant corruption by accepting articles of monetary value and other benefits in exchange for acts in the performance of their public functions. Specifically, Note and Halferty accepted bribes in the form of services and cash, in exchange for their legislative support of a bill in the RMI legislature to create a semi-autonomous region in the RMI."
According to the indictment, Yan and Zhou "met with a close relative of a member of the Marshall Islands legislature in the Marshall Islands" and gave the relative $7,000 in cash "to pass on to the official, specifying that this money would be used to induce and influence other Marshall Islands legislators to support the RASAR resolution."
"Yan and Zhou further stated, in sum, that they knew that the official needed more than $7,000 for this purpose and that (they) would soon obtain additional cash for the official," the court papers said.
In late February 2020, the Marshall Islands legislature penciled the RASAR resolution in for endorsement, a preliminary step that would allow the legislature to enact the more detailed RASAR bill at a later date.