On September 14, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) announced that on September 13, they arrested a director in the Sydney-based Radiance International group of companies, Mozammil Gulamabbas Bhojani, on a charge of conspiring to bribe foreign officials in Nauru. Bhojani’s arrest stemmed from “Operation Regatta,” which the AFP began in 2015 to investigate allegations that Radiance International and its related group of companies, which specialize in trading rock phosphate, conspired to pay bribes to Nauruan public officials.
Bhojani allegedly was involved in making five payments totaling more than AU$100,000 to the officials. According to ABC News, court documents show that Bhojani “operates a multinational business with a network of international contacts,” and has “appears to have extensive business interests on Nauru” and “has access to large quantities of cash.” Subsequently, ABC News reported that Radiance International had also received a AU$2.5 million contract from the Australian Department of Home Affairs for refugee accommodation structures on Nauru.
Note: This case is a reflection of the increasing sophistication in Australian law enforcement’s pursuit of foreign bribery over the last five years. Since 2013, the AFP has not only provided cooperation in other countries’ foreign-bribery investigations such as Alcoa and Unaoil, but also been a participant in the four-nation International Foreign Bribery Taskforce (IFBT) with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the United Kingdom National Crime Agency.
Historically, Australian authorities were criticized for pursuing only a very few foreign-bribery cases. Last September, in just the second foreign-bribery prosecution in Australia, the New South Wales Supreme Court in Regina v. Jousif imposed sentences of imprisonment on three individual defendants. But the December 2017 OECD Working Group on Bribery’s Phase 4 Report credited Australia with “significantly” increased enforcement since 2014, noting that the AFP had 19 active investigations and three further case referrals to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.
Since the Phase 4 Report, the Bhojani case is the second foreign-bribery case that the AFP has brought in 2018. Previously, Australian-based consulting firm SKM was charged with allegedly bribing Vietnamese officials between 2006 and 2011 and Philippine officials between 2000 and mid-2005.
Moreover, public information about the Bhojani case contains some indications of its complexity. Evidence amassed to date includes telephone intercepts and bank records, as well as “a large number of documents and electronic records” seized in a series of raids on Bhojani’s home and the Brisbane office of Ronphos, Nauru’s state-owned phosphate corporation that supplies rock phosphate to customers internationally. If the experience of other countries in complex foreign-bribery cases is any guide, the Bhojani prosecution is likely to be the first, but not the last, prosecution in Operation Regatta.