A Jewish hedge fund manager based in London has been caught up in one of the world’s biggest bribery scandals involving African mining and a controversial Israeli billionaire.
Michael Cohen, 45, a naturalised Briton born in America, ran the European operations of hedge fund manager Och-Ziff from its London office, but was this week he was named by The Sunday Times as one of two employees at the heart of U.S. authorities’ five-year investigation into a series of African corruption cases, in which more than $100 million in bribes are alleged to have been paid, in return for mineral rights.
Cohen, worth an estimated £335 million, was one of London’s most prominent mining investors until leaving Och-Ziff in 2013, two years after authorities first began their investigations. Last week, his former employer agreed to pay $412 million in fines for its part in paying bribes during Cohen’s time there, leaving his reputation in tatters.
Cohen is now fighting to clear his name, after a senior official at the U.S. Department of Justice said: “Och-Ziff and its agents paid millions in bribes to high-level officials across Africa.”
Court filings say the money was paid for contracts and access, including coal in South Africa, platinum in Zimbabwe, uranium in Niger and copper in Congo. The firm’s dealings also took them from Guinea to Chad to Libya, dealing with late dictator Muammar Gadhafi, and led to accusations that the bribes helped finance a brutal crackdown on the political opposition by Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said: “These bribes were paid with the specific knowledge of a senior Och-Ziff employee who was the head of Och-Ziff Europe (Employee A).” Cohen headed Och-Ziff’s European investing at the time.
Cohen, who bought a 920-acre country estate near Basingstoke in 2007 because he likes shooting ducks, was reported to have formed “an unofficial alliance” with Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler, who has befriended Congolese president Joseph Kabila, and who has himself reportedly paid more than $100 million in bribes.
Lawyers for both Gertler and his company “strongly deny” any illegalities, while Cohen’s lawyer said: “We are confident that, when the facts are known, it will be clear he has done nothing wrong.”