This week, the festive season proved to be no holiday for corrupt officials anywhere in the world, as a former DEA agent was jailed for money laundering and other offences involving a Columbian drug cartel; the US Treasury has vowed to stop foreign kleptocrats hiding their illicit wealth in the USA; and an Israeli court imposed a record prison sentence on an ex-member of the legislature for bribery and related financial crimes.
Find out more on these stories below.
Ex-DEA agent sentenced for laundering funds in conspiracy with a Columbian cartel
Mr José Irizarry, a once-respected agent of the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison for his role in the siphoning of $9m (£6.76m) from undercover operations to him and co-conspirators. The offences were committed while he was with the DEA’s Miami Field Division’s office in Cartagena, Colombia, and netted him and his family more than $1m (£750,000) in real estate, luxury vehicles and expensive jewellery.
In sentencing, US District Court judge Charlene Honeywell also slammed the DEA for its apparently lackadaisical supervision of agents working undercover, who are entrusted with managing front companies, running shell bank accounts, and handling couriers to bring down international drug cartels. Defence attorney Ms María Dominguez concurred, saying that when her client joined the DEA, he “was schooled in how to be corrupt, he was schooled in how to break the law.”
Previous scandals involving DEA agents included engaging in sex parties with cartel-sponsored prostitutes while in Columbia, according to a 2015 Justice Department report, while another disgraced ex-agent, Chad Scott, was jailed for 13 years earlier in 2021.
Commenting on the sentence, Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent John Condon noted that while Mr Irizarry’s actions were “uncharacteristic” of most officials, and that the case “should send a message about the serious consequences facing those who would exploit their positions and violate that special trust.”
Read more on this story at CBS News.
US Treasury further cracks down on money laundering and financial crime with new ‘kleptocracy fund’
The US Treasury Department Secretary, Ms Janet Yellen, announced the implementation of the fund at President Joe Biden’s democracy summit in early December 2021. Officially known as the "Kleptocracy Assets Recovery Rewards" program, the fund is part of Congress’ 2021 National Defence Authorisation Act.
The program will incentivise informants who provide tips which lead to the successful seizure, forfeiture, and repatriation of wealth laundered through US institutions by corrupt foreign autocrats. The reward amounts payable are to be capped at $25m (£18.75m) per year and the legislation governing the initiative will allow US authorities to go after kleptocrats abroad.
The so-called ‘kleptocracy fund’ is another plank in the Biden administration’s raft of reforms, initiated in June 2021, intended to fight corruption in the financial sector both at home and abroad. The White House outlined its proposed broader course of action in the US national security strategy report released on the 6 December 2021.
Commenting on the announcement, Ms Yellen said that “there are far too many financial shadows in America that give corruption cover,” and that the Treasury needs to “throw a spotlight on them, and that is what we are doing through many of the measures that are part of the government’s holistic strategy to combat corruption.”
Read more on this story at Reuters.
Ex-member of Israeli legislature jailed for ten years on bribery, tax, money laundering, and fraud charges
A former deputy minister in Israel’s legislature, or Knesset, Ms Faina Kirshenbaum, will begin serving her ten-year sentence immediately for her role in one of the country’s biggest-ever political corruption cases. Ms Kirshenbaum, who is a member of the right-wing political party, Yisrael Beytenu, received the longest prison sentence ever imposed on a current or former Knesset member for corruption-related offenses.
The Tel Aviv District Court found that Ms Kirshenbaum had accepted bribes amounting to about NIS2m (£500,000) over the six-year period from 2009 to 2015, during which she served in the Knesset. The kickback scheme, described by the court as “systematic and uniquely large-scale”, is said to have benefitted Ms Kirshenbaum, her family members and friends, and the Yisrael Beytenu party, which currently has 7 seats in the Knesset. Ms Kirshenbaum, who was found guilty of breach of public trust as well as a host of financial crimes, was also fined NIS900,000 (£217,333).
The stiff sentence is the latest development in a long-running investigation into Yisrael Beytenu. The probe first became public knowledge in 2014, when 36 serving and former officials were arrested, and the investigation has thus far resulted in 17 convictions and several jail terms.
Read more on this story at The Times of Israel.