Bribery charges against two former Och-Ziff Capital Management employees have been dismissed by a New York federal judge.
District judge Nicholas Garaufis ruled July 12 that the complaint filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission in January 2017 was inadmissible, stating that the regulator missed the five-year window for suing defendants Michael Cohen, ex-head of Och-Ziff’s European business, and Vanja Baros, a former Och-Ziff private equity analyst.
“The court agrees that the SEC’s claims – all of which accrued more than five years before the SEC filed suit, and seek relief that is at least partly penal, not solely remedial – are time-barred,” Judge Garaufis wrote in the decision. “Accordingly, the court dismisses the amended complaint.”
The SEC said in January 2017 that its complaint had centered on “tens of millions of dollars” paid to African public officials by Och-Ziff in a “far-reaching bribery scheme” lasting from 2007 to 2012. Och-Ziff and four executives, including Cohen, had been previously charged by the SEC over corrupt practices tied to the firm’s dealings in Africa. After the hedge fund firm agreed in 2016 to pay a $213 million criminal penalty to the U.S. Department of Justice and a $199 million fine to the SEC to resolve the charges, the investigation continued.
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The January 2017 complaint targeted Cohen and Baros, who the SEC claimed were “the masterminds of Och-Ziff’s bribery scheme that improperly used investor funds to pay bribes through agents and partners to officials at the highest levels of foreign governments.”
Cohen and Baros fought back, filing a motion to dismiss the complaint, citing multiple reasons including the expired statute of limitations. In siding with the defendants, Judge Garaufis dismissed the suit with prejudice, a final judgement which bars the SEC from bringing another action on the same claim.