US Files Forfeiture Complaint Against Chinese Company for Laundering Money for North Korea

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Company Allegedly Violated Sanctions by Laundering U.S. Dollar Transactions on Behalf of North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank
WASHINGTON – The United States has filed a complaint to civilly forfeit $1,902,976 from Mingzheng International Trading Limited (Mingzheng), a company based in Shenyang, China. The complaint alleges that Mingzheng is a front company that was created to launder United States dollars on behalf of sanctioned North Korean entities.
According to the complaint, Mingzheng conspired to evade U.S. economic sanctions by facilitating prohibited U.S. dollar transactions through the United States on behalf of the Foreign Trade Bank, a sanctioned entity in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and to launder the proceeds of that conduct through U.S. financial institutions.

The forfeiture action was announced today by U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips and Michael DeLeon, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Phoenix Field Office.

The action represents one of the largest seizures of North Korean funds by the Department of Justice.

“This complaint alleges that parties in China established and used a front company to surreptitiously move North Korean money through the United States and violated the sanctions imposed by our government on North Korea,” said U.S. Attorney Phillips. “Sanctions laws are critical to our national security and foreign policy interests, and this case demonstrates that we will seek significant remedies for those companies that violate them.”

“The FBI has dedicated substantial resources to investigate complex illegal monetary transactions involving foreign adversaries. This specific case has significant national security implications,” said Special Agent in Charge DeLeon. “The men and women of the FBI’s Phoenix Field Division worked diligently to identify the illegal transactions. We hope this sends a strong message to those who utilize US banking systems for illegal activities.”

The complaint was filed on June 14, 2017, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. According to the complaint, Mingzheng is owned by a Chinese national and is based in Shenyang, China. Mingzheng allegedly operated as a front company for a foreign-based branch of the North Korea-based Foreign Trade Bank (FTB). In March 2013, the U.S. Treasury Department designated the Foreign Trade Bank as a sanctioned entity pursuant to the Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferators Sanctions Regulations. The designation noted that the Foreign Trade Bank is a state-owned bank, and “acts as North Korea’s primary foreign exchange bank.” The designation further noted that North Korea uses the Foreign Trade Bank to facilitate millions of dollars in transactions on behalf of actors linked to its proliferation network.

The United Nations Panel of Experts reported in 2017 as to how North Korean banks have been able to evade sanctions and continue to access the international banking system. Specifically, despite strengthened financial sanctions, North Korean networks are adapting by using greater ingenuity in accessing formal banking channels. This includes maintaining correspondent bank accounts and representative offices abroad, which are staffed by foreign nationals making use of front companies. These broad interwoven networks allow the North Korean banks to conduct illicit procurement and banking activity.

An FBI investigation revealed that Mingzheng’s alleged activities mirror this money laundering paradigm. Specifically, Mingzheng acts a front company for a covert Chinese branch of the Foreign Trade Bank. This branch is operated by a Chinese national who has historically been tied to the Foreign Trade Bank.

The government is seeking to forfeit $1,902,976 that was transacted in October and November of 2015 by Mingzheng, via wire transfers, using their Chinese bank accounts. These U.S. dollar payments, which cleared through the United States, are alleged to violate U.S. law, because Mingzheng was surreptitiously making them on behalf of the Foreign Trade Bank, whose designation precluded such U.S. dollar transactions.

The claims made in the complaint are only allegations and do not constitute a determination of liability.

The FBI’s Phoenix Field Office is investigating the case. Assistant U.S Attorneys Arvind K. Lal, Zia M. Faruqui, Christopher B. Brown, Deborah Curtis and Brian P. Hudak are prosecuting the case, with assistance from Paralegal Specialist Toni Anne Donato.

Florida Couple Sentenced for Roles in Procurement Contract Bribery Scheme

A Florida man was sentenced to serve 15 months in prison, and his wife was sentenced to 24 months of probation, for their roles in a bribery and fraud scheme involving federal procurement contracts, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney David B. Barlow of the District of Utah.
On Feb. 26, 2013, Sylvester Zugrav, 70, of Sarasota, Fla., pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery and procurement fraud, and his wife, Maria Zugrav, 67, also of Sarasota, pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony related to her efforts to conceal the conspiracy.
The Zugravs were charged in an October 2011 indictment along with Jose Mendez, 51, of Farr West, Utah.   Mendez, a procurement program manager for the U.S. Air Force Foreign Materials Acquisition Support Office (FMASO) at Hill Air Force Base, in Ogden, Utah, was charged in the indictment with conspiracy, bribery and procurement fraud, and has since pleaded guilty to all charges and agreed to forfeit more than $180,000 he received as part of the bribery scheme.   Sentencing for Mendez is scheduled for Jan. 29, 2014.
According to court documents, the Zugravs owned Atlas International Trading Company, a business that contracted to provide foreign military materials to the U.S. government through FMASO.
In his plea agreement, Sylvester Zugrav admitted that, from 2008 through August 2011, he gave Mendez more than $180,000 in bribe payments and offered Mendez more than $1 million in additional bribe payments contingent upon Atlas’s receipt of future contracts with FMASO.   In exchange for Sylvester Zugrav’s bribe payments and offers, Mendez ensured that Atlas and Sylvester Zugrav received favorable treatment in connection with procurement contracts by, among other things, assisting Atlas in obtaining and maintaining procurement contracts; assisting Atlas in receiving payments on such contracts; and providing Atlas with contract bid or proposal information or source selection information before the award of procurement contracts.   In her plea agreement, Maria Zugrav admitted that she was aware of Sylvester Zugrav’s bribe payments to Mendez and assisted with concealing the crime.
According to court records, Sylvester Zugrav provided bribe payments to Mendez in three ways: cash payments via Federal Express to Mendez’s residential address; in-person payments of cash and other things of value; and electronic wire transfers to a bank account in Mexico opened by and in the name of Mendez’s cousin.   Between November 2009 and August 2011, Sylvester Zugrav sent nine FedEx packages to Mendez’s home address.   Each package contained $5,000 in cash, except the last package, which contained $3,000 and was seized by law enforcement.   Maria Zugrav assisted her husband and Mendez’s bribe scheme by limiting cash withdrawals from Atlas’s bank account to not more than $5,000 to avoid scrutiny by banking officials and law enforcement.
According to the plea documents, on multiple occasions when Sylvester Zugrav and Mendez traveled to the same location, Sylvester Zugrav would give Mendez cash payments and other things of value.   From 2008 through August 2011, Sylvester Zugrav gave Mendez seven in-person cash payments ranging from $500 to $10,000 and purchased for him[?] a laptop computer and software package worth over $2,900.
During the course of the corrupt scheme, Mendez opened a foreign bank account so that Sylvester Zugrav could pay Mendez larger bribe payments.   Mendez asked his cousin in Mexico to open an account there.   After the account was opened by Mendez’s cousin, Maria Zugrav made wire transfers to the bank account located in the name of Mendez’s cousin to avoid detection of the larger bribe payments by law enforcement.   From 2008 through August 2011, Maria Zugrav sent to the Mexico account 10 wire transfers ranging from $350 to $26,700.
Court records also describe additional steps taken to conceal the bribery scheme, including creating and using covert e-mail accounts, using encrypted documents, adopting false names and using code words.   For instance, to avoid detection of their e-mail communications, Sylvester Zugrav and Mendez established e-mail accounts to be used only to communicate requests and offers for bribe payments.   Sylvester Zugrav and Mendez also created password-protected documents for e-mail communications and used code words and false names.   Within the encrypted documents, Mendez adopted the moniker “Chuco” and Sylvester Zugrav used the codename “Jugo.”   They referred to cash as “literature.”
The case was investigated by the FBI and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.   The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Marquest J. Meeks and Edward P. Sullivan of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section, Assistant U.S. Attorney Carlos A. Esqueda of the District of Utah, and Trial Attorney Deborah Curtis of the National Security Division’s Counterespionage Section.

 

Florida Couple Pleads Guilty for Roles in Procurement Contract Bribery Scheme

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Florida couple who owned a military contracting company pleaded guilty today in federal court in Salt Lake City for their roles in a bribery and fraud scheme involving federal procurement contracts, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney David B. Barlow for the District of Utah.

Sylvester Zugrav, 70, of Sarasota, Fla., pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery and procurement fraud.  His wife, Maria Zugrav, 67, also of Sarasota, pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony related to her efforts to conceal the conspiracy.  The Zugravs were charged in an indictment, returned on Oct. 12, 2011, along with Jose Mendez, 51, of Farr West, Utah, a procurement program manager for the U.S. Air Force Foreign Materials Acquisition Support Office (FMASO) at Hill Air Force Base, in Ogden, Utah.

Mendez was charged in the indictment with conspiracy, bribery and procurement fraud, and has since pleaded guilty to all charges and agreed to forfeit more than $180,000 he received as part of the bribery scheme and awaits sentencing.

According to court documents, the Zugravs owned Atlas International Trading Company, a business that contracted to provide foreign military materials to the U.S. government through FMASO.

In his plea agreement, Sylvester Zugrav admitted that, from 2008 through August 2011, he gave Mendez more than $180,000 in bribe payments, and offered Mendez more than $1.05 million in additional bribe payments contingent upon Atlas’s receipt of future contracts with FMASO.  In exchange for Sylvester Zugrav’s bribe payments and offers, Mendez ensured that Atlas and Sylvester Zugrav received favorable treatment in connection with procurement contracts, including, among other things, assisting Atlas in obtaining and maintaining procurement contracts; assisting Atlas in receiving payments on such contracts; and providing Atlas with contract bid or proposal information or source selection information before the award of procurement contracts.

In her plea agreement, Maria Zugrav admitted that she was aware of Sylvester Zugrav’s bribe payments to Mendez and assisted with concealment of the crime.  According to court records, Sylvester Zugrav provided bribe payments to Mendez in three ways: cash payments via Federal Express to Mendez’s residential address; in-person payments of cash and other things of value; and electronic wire transfers to a bank account in Mexico opened by and in the name of Mendez’s cousin.  Between November 2009 and August 2011, Sylvester Zugrav sent nine FedEx packages to Mendez’s home address.  Each package contained $5,000 in cash, except the last package, containing $3,000, which was seized by law enforcement.  Maria Zugrav assisted her husband and Mendez’s bribe scheme by limiting cash withdrawals from Atlas’ bank account to not more than $5,000 to avoid scrutiny by banking officials and law enforcement. According to the plea documents, on multiple occasions when Sylvester Zugrav and Mendez traveled to the same location, Sylvester Zugrav would give Mendez cash payments and other things of value.  From 2008 through August 2011, Sylvester Zugrav gave Mendez seven in-person cash payments ranging from $500 to $10,000, and purchased a laptop computer and software package worth over $2,900.

As Mendez admitted, during the course of the corrupt scheme, Mendez opened a foreign bank account so that Sylvester Zugrav could pay Mendez larger bribe payments.  Mendez asked his cousin in Mexico to open an account there.  After the account was opened by Mendez’s cousin, Maria Zugrav made wire transfers to the bank account located in Mexico in the name of Mendez’s cousin to avoid detection of the larger bribe payments by law enforcement.  From 2008 through August 2011, Maria Zugrav sent 10 wire transfers to the Mexico account ranging from $350 to $26,700.

Court records also describe additional steps taken to conceal the bribery scheme, including creating and using covert e-mail accounts, using encrypted documents, adopting false names and using code words.  For instance, to avoid detection of their e-mail communications, Sylvester Zugrav and Mendez established e-mail accounts to be used only to communicate requests and offers for bribe payments.  Sylvester Zugrav and Mendez also created password-protected documents for e-mail communications, and used code words and false names. Within the encrypted documents, Mendez adopted the moniker “Chuco” and Sylvester Zugrav used the codename “Chuco”  They referred to cash as “literature.”

Sylvester Zugrav faces a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the conspiracy count, and Maria Zugrav faces a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the misprision count.  Sentencing for the Zugravs is scheduled for June 19, 2013.

The case was investigated by the FBI and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Marquest J. Meeks and Edward P. Sullivan of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section, Assistant U.S. Attorney Carlos A. Esqueda for the District of Utah and Trial Attorney Deborah Curtis of the National Security Division’s Counterespionage Section.