Global Investigations Review - The law and practice of international investigations


Wednesday, 12 February 2020

PNF launches investigation linked to murder of Maltese journalist

France’s National Financial Prosecutor (PNF) has begun a preliminary investigation into financial transactions carried out by suspects in the case of a murdered Maltese journalist.

The PNF announced on 12 February that it is looking into whether individuals, suspected of having a role in the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia, made the transactions in France as part of a scheme to corrupt foreign public officials.

France’s Central Office for the fight against corruption and financial and fiscal offences (OCLCIFF) will also be investigating the matter, according to the PNF’s press release.

Caruana Galizia was an investigative journalist who reported on government corruption and money laundering. She was killed by a car bomb in Malta on 16 October 2017.

Five arrested for violating US sanctions on Iran

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on 11 February it had arrested and charged five US citizens for allegedly conspiring to buy Iranian oil to sell to a refinery in China. 

The DOJ charged Nicholas Hovan, Robert Thwaites, Nicholas Fuchs, Daniel Lane and Zhenyu Wang with one count of violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and one related conspiracy charge.

The defendants, who could face 25 years in prison and a $1.25 million fine, allegedly planned to sell the oil through a Polish shell company for “tremendous profits”, before laundering the money through a company owned by Lane.

Former FBI director Freeh’s testimony excluded from VW emissions lawsuit

A US judge has excluded testimony from former FBI director Louis Freeh from a forthcoming civil trial against German car manufacturer Volkswagen.

Lawyers for the carmaker argued that Freeh’s testimony should be disallowed because it is based on documents shared with him while he was applying to become the company’s monitor in connection with the diesel emissions scandal.

The car manufacturer is fighting a lawsuit from customers over its attempt to conceal the true level of toxic emissions from its vehicles by use of illegal “defeat devices” during industry testing.

According to court documents from the Northern District of California, US District Judge Charles Breyer ruled that Freeh’s opinion was “immaterial” and would “prolong the proceedings”.

EPPO chief warns of insufficient resources

The EU Public Prosecutor’s Office chief prosecutor Laura Kövesi has decried a lack of funding and staff for the agency, according to reports.

Kövesi reportedly said that current plans for the authority, which will be responsible for combatting fraud and corruption affecting the EU budget, will not provide it with the necessary resources and number of employees to fulfil its remit.

Based in Luxembourg with 22 participating states across the union, the new agency is set to officially begin work in November 2020. 

Bank of San Juan pays $1 million to settle US investigation

US prosecutors and Puerto Rico’s Bank of San Juan have resolved an investigation into charges of money laundering linked to $519 million worth of deposits made by state-controlled Venezuelan oil company Petróleos de Venezuela. 

The US Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico announced on 11 February it has dismissed a linked civil forfeiture action against the bank and returned $53 million in seized assets.

Prosecutors said they considered in the resolution the “numerous substantive” measures the bank has undertaken to improve its Banking Secrecy Act and Anti-Money Laundering policies and procedures.

London court rejects Iran’s request to pile interest onto debt payment stalled by EU sanctions

The High Court of England and Wales ruled on 12 February that a UK government defence trading business – known as International Military Services Limited and owned by the UK’s Defence and Treasury Departments – does not need to pay interest on an outstanding debt to the Iranian defence ministry (MODSAF) for the period that Iran has been sanctioned by the EU. 

According to the judgment, both parties agree the debt cannot legally be paid while Iran’s defence ministry remains sanctioned, but the court rejected MODSAFs request to add on the interest – in the region of £20 million – that has been accruing since 2008, when the EU added the Iranian military to its sanctions list.

The original debt relates to a deal signed in the 1970s for the UK to supply tanks and armoured vehicles to the Shah of Iran, who was deposed in 1979.

Portugal moves to seize Isabel dos Santos’ bank accounts

Portugal’s public prosecutor has seized bank accounts in the country belonging to Isabel dos Santos, at the request of Angolan authorities, according to Reuters.

The accounts are reportedly held at two Portuguese lenders, Millennium bcp and Eurobic.

A spokesperson for the prosecutor reportedly confirmed it is cooperating with Angolan authorities, which are investigating Dos Santos over alleged corruption at the country’s state oil company, Sonangol.

A consortium of journalists has claimed that leaked documents show that the daughter of Angola’s former president has embezzled over $2 billion from the African nation. Dos Santos denies wrongdoing.

US businessman sentenced to 16 months for trade secret theft

A judge at the US District Court for the District of Columbia has sentenced US businessman Shang Shi to 16 months in prison and fined him more than $330,000 for conspiring to steal trade secrets, according to a US Department of Justice press release. 

Shi was convicted in July 2019 of conspiracy to steal trade secrets by obtaining information about a buoyant foam manufacturing process from the former employees of a US company and transferring it to China.

The DOJ arrested and charged five other individuals in the US and one in China over the matter.

Horizon Oil suspends CEO amid corruption allegations

Australian oil company Horizon Oil announced on 12 February that it has suspended its CEO Michael Sheridan after newspaper reports casting doubts on the legitimacy of a $10.3 million payment the business made to a Papua New Guinea shell company in 2011.

Horizon said it has also established an independent board committee to oversee an internal investigation into the allegations.

The company added it would cooperate with any potential investigation conducted by the Australian Federal Police, who are reportedly reviewing the matter. It has hired Herbert Smith Freehills and Deloitte for the investigation.

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