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Son of former Gabonese prime minister guilty of bribery gets two years

May 31, 2017 By Paul Frangipane Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Samuel Mebiame got two years in prison from federal judge Nicholas Garaufis for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Eagle file photo by Rob Abruzzese

The son of a late former prime minister of the West African country Gabon was sentenced to two years in prison on Wednesday for bribing African government officials to obtain rights to mining concessions.

Samuel Mebiame, 43, violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by engaging in a foreign bribery scheme, working as a “fixer” for a joint venture owned by the U.S. hedge fund Och-Ziff Capital Management Group LLC and its partner Turks and Caicos Islands Inc. to bribe African officials in exchange for business opportunities, including a mining contracts.

“I am very very sorry for what I did,” Mebiame said in Brooklyn federal court.

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Mebiame has been held without bail since his arrest in Aug. 2016, leaving behind a family, including a 13-year-old daughter in Africa. “I really miss my family, especially my daughter,” he said.

Och-Ziff pleaded guilty to bribing officials of the Republic of Congo and agreed in Sept. 2016 to pay $412 million to resolve U.S. probes into the fund’s bribery role in the scheme. Chief Executive Daniel Och agreed to pay $2.17 million. This is the first U.S. foreign bribery case for Och-Ziff, which Judge Nicholas Garaufis is overseeing as well. 

Mebiame discussed his role of the scheme with U.S. law enforcement in June 2015 and met with an IRS agent without legal representation.

Judge Garaufis voiced his concern about Mebiame’s representation as an individual, compared to the power of Och-Ziff’s expensive attorneys. “This defendant shows up at the door of the IRS without any legal representation,” Judge Garaufis said. “Even a fair-beater on the New York City subway…gets legal representation.”

Garaufis mentioned multiple times the imbalance between the treatment of the hedge fund and Mebiame.

“This gentleman was a participant in it in a significant way, but the rest of the people who were involved in it are out on a golf course,” he said.

Between Jan. 2007 and June 2015, working for the unnamed joint venture, Mebiame bribed officials of Niger, Chad and Guinea, giving expensive cars to officials in Niger and Guinea as well as covering travel and shopping expenses for the advisor to Chad’s president. The officials would then source and secure mining for the joint venture.

“The defendant suggests he was somehow a minor figure,” Prosecutor James Loonam said in court. “That is just wrong.”

Mebiame, the son of late former Gabon Prime Minister Leon Mebiame, was paid more than $7 million for his role, according to Loonam.

Mebiame’s attorney, Larry Krantz, disagreed and argued for a sentence of time served, which would be one year and a day. “Obviously we have some pretty strong disagreements with the government,” Krantz said. “We are two ships passing in the night here.”

“My biggest problem with this case…is a lack of balance between the sentences requested,” Judge Garaufis said, adding that he’s “sick and tired of” lawyers at big law firms being the ones to benefit in these situations.

Mebiame pleaded guilty on Dec. 9, 2016 before Magistrate Judge Lois Bloom and received consideration for his plea and cooperation with the government in the final sentencing.

“I’m not going to hold Mr. Mebiame for all the evils of corruption in Africa,” Judge Garaufis said. “I guess I’ve said it three times and I’ll say it again, it’s time for people who are responsible for these actions to be held accountable.” 

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