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On August 16, Samuel Mébiame was arrested by U.S. federal prosecutors and charged with bribing African officials to obtain mineral rights to some of the continent’s most lucrative assets. Son of the late Léon Mébiame, a former prime minister of the Central African country of Gabon, Mébiame, 43, had made something of a career for himself as a fixer, operating in West and Central Africa, using his political connections to help secure mining rights.

According to the U.S. government’s case, between 2007 and 2015 Mébiame worked as a consultant for a joint venture between a U.S.-based hedge fund firm and a Turks and Caicos–incorporated entity. In the complaint, filed in a federal district court in Brooklyn, the government alleges that “Mebiame’s job was to source and secure mining opportunities in Africa for the Joint Venture and one of its portfolio companies.” To secure these valuable assets, Mébiame was “routinely paying bribes to foreign government officials.” Using evidence provided by Mébiame’s hedge fund client — which is cooperating with the government — to support its case, along with records obtained through search warrants, witness statements, and Mébiame’s voluntary confession, obtained during two meetings with federal law enforcement in June 2015, the government has accused Mébiame of bribing government officials in Niger, Guinea, and Chad.

Mébiame certainly appeared to know that he was involved in something illegal. In a September 2009 e-mail to his clients, quoted by the U.S. government in its affidavit in support of his arrest, the Gabon native told the owner of the Turks and Caicos entity and an employee of the joint venture as much. “You sistematicaly [sic] used corruption in Africa to get the assets you have,” Mébiame wrote. He threatened to go to the press to expose the alleged misconduct if he did not get an ownership stake in a specific mining company. Mébiame’s attorney declined to comment for this story, citing the ongoing court proceedings.

Mébiame is just one player in a complex network that, operating over nearly a decade, sought to obtain mining rights to some of the most potentially lucrative resources in Africa through influence peddling, bribery, and in some cases the alleged financial support of corrupt African leaders. A key participant in this network for about five years, starting in 2007, was Och-Ziff Capital Management Group — the cooperating hedge fund in Mébiame’s case —the $37 billion, publicly traded firm founded by former Goldman, Sachs & Co. partner Daniel Och with backing from the Ziff Brothers Investments family office.

For years Och-Ziff has been one of the blue-chip firms in the $3 trillion hedge fund industry and has boasted such high-profile, risk-averse public pension clients as the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), the New Jersey Division of Investment, and the Florida State Board of Administration. Now shareholders, investors, and others are asking how such a seemingly upright institution as Och-Ziff became involved in so many backroom African deals. Some of these deals led to a five-year investigation of Och-Ziff’s investments in Africa and forced the firm to shell out $412 million — the fourth-largest Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) settlement in history — to settle bribery charges with the U.S. government, in a deal announced September 29.

The trouble does not end there, however. In the past few months, billions of dollars have flowed out of Och-Ziff’s funds. Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s have cut Och-Ziff’s credit rating. Its shares, which debuted in November 2007 at $32 apiece, were hovering around $3.20 in late October.

Almost six weeks after Mébiame’s indictment, Och-Ziff agreed to pay a $213 million Department of Justice criminal penalty and a $199 million Securities and Exchange Commission resolution to resolve the bribery charges. In addition, the SEC asserted that Och-Ziff CEO Dan Och and CFO Joel Frank violated the antibribery, books and records, and internal controls provisions of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Och agreed, without admitting or denying guilt, to personally pay a civil sanction of $2.2 million. Frank also consented to the SEC order without admitting or denying the findings. The firm’s subsidiary OZ Africa Management GP pleaded guilty to one count of violating FCPA.

“In its pursuit of profits, Och-Ziff and its agents paid millions in bribes to high-level officials across Africa,” one of the prosecutors in the case said in the DoJ statement announcing the settlement.

Och-Ziff is now hoping to put what its CEO has called a deeply disappointing episode behind it, yet recent events have been a blow to the 55-year-old Och’s reputation as a business builder and a leader. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, he got his start on Wall Street at Goldman Sachs’ famed risk arbitrage desk and went on to become the bank’s head of equity and proprietary equity trading. It was Och’s luck — or prescience — to start Och-Ziff in 1994, at a time when hedge funds were beginning to transform from the private investments of the very wealthy to something that forward-thinking institutions, particularly foundations and endowments, wanted to be in. By the time of Och-Ziff’s 2007 IPO, investors included the likes of Goldman Sachs, Blackstone Group, the U.K.’s Wellcome Trust, and CalPERS. Dan Och is now worth an estimated $2.6 billion. He and his firm declined to comment for this story.

Now some of Och-Ziff’s investors, and at least a portion of Och’s net worth, may be in jeopardy. Firmwide assets under management plunged from $48 billion on June 30, 2015, to $36.9 billion in late-October 2016, owing to a combination of lackluster performance, an industrywide backlash over hedge fund fees, and the firm’s legal woes. The day before the FCPA settlement was announced, the New Jersey State Investment Council voted to redeem $190 million from Och-Ziff as part of the public pension fund’s retrenchment from hedge funds. After the settlement Goldman Sachs pulled about $350 million invested in Och-Ziff through its employee retirement fund. (Both funds still retain investments with Och-Ziff, however.) The settlement may also hamper the hedge fund firm’s ability to manage corporate pension money, which is subject to oversight from the Department of Labor under ERISA, if it does not receive the necessary waivers.

Some investors who have spoken with Och say they feel reassured by the steps the firm has taken. Following the settlement Och-Ziff, which in 2014 had hired a former SEC general counsel as its chief legal officer, stressed that it had strengthened its compliance procedures; it has installed a monitor for three years to ensure that no future violations take place, per its agreement with the government. In a public statement about the settlement issued the day the agreement was announced, the firm laid much of the blame for its legal woes at the feet of two former employees: Michael Cohen and Vanja Baros. Och-Ziff said the two men “deliberately concealed their misconduct from other employees.” Neither Cohen nor Baros has been charged with a crime for any of their dealings in Africa. “We are confident that, when the facts are known, it will be clear that Michael Cohen has done nothing wrong,” Cohen’s attorney, Ronald White, said in a statement. Baros could not be reached for comment.

Michael Cohen, it turns out, was not a rank-and-file employee of Och-Ziff. Though Vanja Baros, a private equity analyst, was a relatively minor player at the firm, Cohen was a partner and head of Och-Ziff’s European office. One of five key senior investment partners who helped build the firm before its IPO, Cohen, who joined the asset manager from Franklin Mutual Advisers in 1997, once described himself in U.K. court testimony as Och’s “protégé.” In 1999, at age 27, Cohen was sent to London to help establish and run the U.K. and European operations. When Och-Ziff went public, Cohen was the third-most–highly compensated executive.

Even before the IPO, Och had been transforming the firm, building up its private equity and deal-making bench and turning toward more long-term investments. The strategy was very different from the more- liquid merger arbitrage–type opportunities that defined the early years of Och-Ziff, and post-IPO the firm was even more keen to widen its reach. A key part of the strategy was to strike partnerships around the globe. One such partnership: Africa Management Ltd., or AML.

AML, and the many entities that came to touch it, form an extraordinary web into which Och-Ziff invested hundreds of millions of dollars in client money. It has ties to the prisons of apartheid-era South Africa, the diamond mines of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and even the privatization of the former Soviet Union. The web extended over the shifting political landscape of a continent in transition, through public and private markets, and at offices in Johannesburg, London, Miami, New York, Paris, and Tel Aviv. The dealings of Och-Ziff’s African investment partners spanned numerous countries, including Chad, the DRC, Libya, Niger, the Republic of Guinea, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. The network, worthy of a John le Carré novel, is only now starting to unravel.

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