It might be Oscars week, but it’s the financial crime fighters of the world whose efforts were awarded, as millions of pounds pilfered from Kenya by a Jersey company are to be returned; a US federal court convicted a Californian man of defrauding a COVID-19 relief scheme; and several European countries froze assets and seized properties belonging to Lebanon's central bank chief in a major operation.
Find out more on these stories below.
Millions of laundered pounds confiscated from a Jersey-based company set to be returned to Kenya
£3m will be confiscated from the Jersey-registered Windward Trading Limited (Ltd), after it was convicted of money laundering, with the funds due to be returned to Kenya, their country of origin.
The Asset Recovery Agreement (ARA) was signed on the 28th of March 2022 by her Majesty’s Attorney General (AG) for Jersey, Mark Temple, and Kenya’s High Commissioner to the UK, H.E. Ambassador Manoah Esipisu.
The Royal Court of Jersey ordered the confiscation in February 2016 after Windward Trading Ltd pleaded guilty to four counts of money laundering from late July 1999 to mid-October 2001. The corrupt practices took place in Kenya, where Windward’s beneficial owner Samuel Gichuru headed up the country’s energy supplier, Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC) during that same timeframe.
Gichuru oversaw the award of several tenders by KPLC to energy and engineering companies globally, the corrupt payments for which were made to Windward Ltd, disguised as consultancy and commission fees. He still lives in Kenya fighting an extradition order to face the charges in Jersey along with one other.
It is the first time an ARA has been implemented in line with the Framework for the Return of Assets from Corruption and Crime in Kenya (FRACCK), which was instituted in 2018. The multi-national anti-corruption initiative involving Kenya, Jersey, Switzerland, and the UK, ring-fenced most of the recovered funds for the African country’s Covid-19 pandemic response.
Read more on this story at ITV.
US Federal court convicts COVID-19 relief scheme crook for fraud and money laundering
A US federal jury has found Californian man, Robert Benlevi, guilty of making $27m (£20.56m) in fraudulent claims from the Small Business Administration-backed Paycheck Protection Programme (PPP). Benlevi’s offences, which included fraudulent applications, false representations, and money laundering, took place in 2020 and netted him $3m (£2.28m). He was arrested in July 2021, and convicted on 29 March 2022.
According to the charges in the indictment, Benlevi:
- Submitted 27 PPP applications totalling $27m in forgivable loans from April to June 2020 to four banks via eight companies he owned, and received $3m in relief funding in total.
- Claimed that each of his companies employed 100 people and had average payrolls of $400,000 (£304,560) per month, also submitting fake Inland Revenue Service (IRS) documents alleging annual payroll costs of $4.8m (£3.65m) per company.
- Made use of the PPP funds he received to illicitly settle personal expenses and finance credit cards, rent a Santa Monica apartment, and, in one instance, funnel $250,000 (£190,350) into his private accounts.
The PPP was set up to assist American businesses suffering economically from the COVID-19 pandemic global shut down with paying staff and covering business expenses. Benlevi faces up to 30 years in prison on each fraud and false statement charge, and up to 10 years imprisonment on each money laundering charge.
Read more on this story at The Washington Examiner.
Three EU countries seize properties and assets allegedly linked to money laundering from Lebanon’s bank chief
Luxembourg, Germany, and France have frozen assets and seized properties linked to Riad Salameh, the head of Lebanon’s Central Bank. The European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation (Eurojust) oversaw the action taken on the 25th of March 2022, and announced the move on the 28th of that month.
The multi-national probe into Salameh’s private wealth, which launched in mid-2021 and is supported by Eurojust, targeted five individuals including the Lebanese bank governor, citing charges of corruption, money laundering, and embezzling $330m (£251.26m) and €5m (£4.25m) respectively, both in Lebanon between 2002 and 2021. The seizures included, by country:
- In Germany: three properties worth €28m (£23.82m), and €7m (£5.96m) in assets
- In France: two properties worth €16m (£13.61m), and a bank account with €2.2m (£1.87m) in it
- In Luxembourg: a bank account with €11m (£9.36m) in it
Eurojust noted that the actions taken by authorities did not prejudice the legal position of the accused, who are assumed innocent until proven otherwise. Salameh meanwhile claimed he was being made a scapegoat for the economically blighted Lebanon, with his lawyer, Pierre-Olivier Sur, adding that they would “exercise [their] full remedies" in fighting the case.
Read more at Yahoo News.
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