Chinese duo arrested for trying to start their own micronation in US-defended Marshall Islands

  • Cary Yan, 50, and Gina Zhou, 34, were extradited to New York on Friday in connection with a series of bribery and money laundering practices they allegedly committed to influence the creation of a semi-autonomous region in the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI).
  • A former U.S. territory, the RMI is now an independent state but continues to be defended by Washington under a 2004 agreement.
  • Yan and Zhou allegedly paid RMI officials to push for a bill that would create their proposed region, which they called the Rongelap Atoll Special Administrative Region (RASAR).
  • If created, Yan, Zhou and their associates would attract foreign business and investors to help with its economic and social development.
  • The pair, both Chinese nationals, have been charged with conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), violating the FCPA, conspiring to commit money laundering and committing money laundering.

A Chinese pair has been extradited to New York for allegedly bribing lawmakers in the U.S.-controlled Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI) into passing legislation that would create a semi-autonomous region for their financial benefit.

Cary Yan, 50, and Gina Zhou, 34, ran their scheme between 2016 and 2019, according to a Justice Department release. Yan allegedly posed as president and chairman of “the NGO,” while Zhou presented herself as his assistant.

The Marshall Islands, a former U.S. territory, is an independent state composed of volcanic islands and coral atolls in the central Pacific Ocean. However, it entered into an amended compact in 2004 that gives Washington “full authority and responsibility for defense and security matters in and relating to the RMI.”

The RMI also happens to be pro-Taiwan. At present, it is one of just 14 countries that have formal diplomatic ties with the democratic, self-governed island, which communist China insists is a breakaway province.

Yan and Zhou, who traveled on passports issued by the RMI, allegedly met with state officials on multiple occasions regarding the creation of a semi-autonomous region in an area called the Rongelap Atoll. If created, it would allow the pair and their “NGO” to attract foreign businesses and investors to participate in its economic and social development.

The proposal was publicly announced at a Hong Kong conference in April 2018. It was named the Rongelap Atoll Special Administrative Region (RASAR).

A composite “true color” multispectral satellite image of the Marshall Islands’ Rongelap Atoll. Image via NASA

RMI officials, including those part of the legislature — and thus had the power to vote for the proposed region’s creation — were present at the conference. Yan and Zhou’s “NGO” allegedly paid for their travel, accommodation and entertainment.

The duo then allegedly offered a series of cash bribes for the creation of a RASAR bill. By August 2018, some RMI lawmakers finally introduced it.

In an apparent setback, the bill was stalled after the RMI held elections for the legislature. Nonetheless, Yan and Zhou allegedly continued to communicate with some officials, which eventually resulted in the creation of the “RASAR Resolution.”

The resolution would allow the legislature to enact a more detailed RASAR bill at a later date. On one occasion, Yan and Zhou allegedly met a close relative of one lawmaker and paid them $7,000 in cash, which was supposed to be handed to the official and used “to induce and influence” other legislators to support the resolution.

On March 20, 2020, the legislature passed the RASAR Resolution. Yan and Zhou, who went by multiple aliases, were arrested later in Thailand on Nov. 16, 2020, and extradited to New York on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022.

Both suspects have been charged with conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), violating the FCPA, conspiring to commit money laundering and committing money laundering. They each face a maximum of five years in prison for conspiring to violate the FCPA, five years for violating the FCPA, 20 years for conspiring to commit money laundering and 20 years for money laundering.

 

Featured Image via NASA (left) and Tropical Sailing Life (right)

 

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