- A Chinese couple has been accused of trying to establish a mini-state in the Marshall Islands.
- Cary Yan and Gina Zhou were charged for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
- Per the DOJ, they tried creating a semi-autonomous region like Hong Kong in the former US territory.
A Chinese couple was arrested and indicted on Friday for what the Department of Justice described as a “multi-year scheme” to try to, among other things, establish an autonomous mini-state in the Marshall Islands, a former US territory.
According to a DOJ press release on Friday, Cary Yan, 50, and Gina Zhou, 34, are accused of money laundering and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
The indictment of Yan and Zhou outlines allegations from prosecutors of how the pair had posed as officers linked to a non-governmental organization in New York City and tried to bribe Marshall Islands officials while in US territory. According to the filing, the NGO also held a “special consultative status” with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs from around 2016 to 2018.
The Marshall Islands are a former US territory that gained independence in 1986 and is known for the Bikini Atoll, a coral reef where the US tested nuclear weapons following World War II. The US still maintains “full authority and responsibility” for the Marshall Islands’ defense, per the State Department.
According to the couple’s indictment, they had taken meetings in New York in an attempt to carve out a semi-autonomous region, akin to Hong Kong, in an area called the Rongelap Atoll. This autonomous region would allow Yan, Zhou, and their organization to bring in investors to work on economic and social projects, which they said would take place in the region.
Prosecutors said Yan and Zhou floated this idea of the “Rongelap Special Economic Zone,” while offering cash bribes to try to influence Marshall Islands legislators to create the zone.
The Marshall Islands is, coincidentally, known to be a pro-Taiwan state. It is also one of the only 14 countries that have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan — which China claims is a renegade province.
The DOJ in its press release said Yan and Zhou were arrested in Thailand in November 2020. They were later extradited and arrived in the Southern District of New York on Friday. They are due in court on Tuesday.
DOJ attorney Damian Williams said Yan and Zhou’s bribery scheme was “designed to influence and manipulate the legislative process” in the Marshall Islands to reap financial benefit for themselves and their associates while violating “the integrity of democratic processes.”
Meanwhile, FBI assistant director Michael J. Driscoll said in the press release that Yan and Zhou had “conducted multiple illegal activities to benefit their personal interests at the expense of the people of the Marshall Islands.”
The DOJ said in a separate statement that the couple each faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for every count of money laundering, and up to five years in prison for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.