Opening Remarks of Jeremy Schulman
Good afternoon. I am Jeremy Schulman from the law firm Shulman Rogers.
For the past five years, we have served as legal counsel to the Federal Government of Somalia on a range of important matters. A key focus of our work has been the identification, tracing, safeguarding, and recovery of Somali-state assets frozen in various jurisdictions around the world. Since 2013, our work has been conducted under the supervision of the President of Somalia, H.E. Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.
We are aware that within the past few weeks, the United Nations Monitoring Group for Somalia and Eritrea, led by Jarat Chopra, released a letter criticizing our asset recovery work on behalf of the Somali government. Chopra personally signed the letter, and thereby took personal responsibility for its contents.
Let me say at the outset, the allegations contained in the Chopra letter are false, malicious, and have no basis in fact whatsoever.
We are proud of our work for the Somali government and the Somali people.
We have been extremely effective and successful in our efforts. We have identified tens of millions of dollars in Somali state assets, taken diligent steps to safeguard them, and worked to place them under the direct control of the Somali government. These assets are safe, secure and available for immediate use by the government and the people of Somalia. To our knowledge, there is no other person, group, institution, or government that has helped to put more assets under the direct control of the Somali government than we have.
In doing our work, we complied at all times with all applicable laws of the United States and Somalia, and we received the direct cooperation of the United States government, other governments around the world, and major financial institutions.
It is important to remember that Somalia is a sovereign state with a legitimate, internationally-recognized government. That government is led capably by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.
It is completely lawful and appropriate for the legitimate, recognized central government of Somalia to recover
Somali state assets and use those assets for the state building activities that are underway. No one needs to check with Jarat Chopra or anyone else at the Monitoring Group for permission to restore Somali assets to the Somali government.
Our first contract for asset recovery was signed in 2009, and then revised in 2010. This contract was released publicly and was the subject of a 2010 Wall Street Journal article. The contract provided for fair compensation for our services, in line with our usual billing rates, but with one important difference: we would only be paid if we were successful in finding and recovering Somali assets. Our contract was revised a second time in the summer of 2013 as a result of a renegotiation requested by the Somali government.
While we were doing our work, there was no fully functioning Central Bank in Somalia to oversee us. For certain periods of time, there was no Governor in place, and until very recently there was no Board of Directors. So it was determined that the most prudent and legally proper mechanism was
for us to work under the direction of the President of Somalia, who was the most permanent and responsible of all government officials.
In January 2013, it was publicly announced by then Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that the United States Government officially recognized the Somali Government led by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. With the ascendance of President Mohamud, but still no complete management structure for the Central Bank in place, we considered it optimal to continue working under presidential direction and authority, as did the United States government, whose cooperation and participation was sought to enable release of the assets.
In July 2013, as our asset recovery work advanced, the Monitoring Group, led by Chopra, released a report claiming that the Central Bank of Somalia was a slush fund for corruption, and that all financial officials of the Somali government were either corrupt or incompetent to control corruption. These claims—although later disproved by a world class investigative team—lent even more support for the idea that the Somali President should oversee the asset recovery process. The President was one of the only key officials in the Somali government who was not accused by Chopra in his July 2013 report.
In the Fall of 2013, we succeeded in unblocking tens of millions of dollars in Somali state assets, and we thereafter worked diligently under the direction of President Mohamud and his office to ensure that those assets were placed in proper Central Bank accounts.
Chopra now comes forward with a salacious and sensational report, with the clear intention of attempting to discredit the Somali government, our law firm, and the individuals who have worked hard to support the asset recovery project for the people of Somalia.
In his report, Chopra takes our emails and memoranda—much of our work product, which led to the successful recovery of assets—and completely mischaracterizes them. He mislabels the asset recovery work as “corrupt,” “a conspiracy,” and an effort to divert or misappropriate Somali assets. Let me be very clear. These labels are completely false, malicious and utterly without merit. Chopra offers no evidence at all to substantiate these false claims, and, significantly, the facts that he does bring to bear prove the exact opposite of what he claims. Instead of misappropriating assets, the records show a careful attempt to safeguard assets and place them under the control of the Central Bank and the President.
Let me address some specific assertions by Chopra:
1. Chopra falsely claims that our work was conducted in “secrecy.” The reality is that we worked openly with the governments of the United States and numerous other governments around the world, as well as with the financial institutions holding Somalia’s funds. We involved the World Bank as well. We regularly consulted with key officials within the Somali government.
2. Chopra falsely claims that assets were “diverted” away from the Central Bank, which created “opportunities” for “misappropriation.” The reality is that all assets have been fully accounted for. Under the President’s direct instructions, and as required by our engagement agreement, we transferred $9 million to the Central Bank of Somalia’s bank account in Turkey. The remaining $22 million in assets were kept in the Central Bank of Somalia’s accounts in the United States.
3. Chopra falsely claims that we “exploited” the authority of the President and “leveraged” support from the United States government to recover assets in Europe. The reality is that we obtained lawful authority from the President and other appropriate officials of the Somali government so that we could accomplish our task, which was the recovery of Somalia’s state assets. We did this faithfully, successfully, and to the substantial benefit of the Somali government.
4. Chopra falsely claims that Somalia’s 2013 report responding to the Monitoring Group’s 2013 report was “pre-determined,” and intended to “cover-up” corruption at the Central Bank that Chopra claims to have uncovered in 2013. The reality is that our work responding to the Monitoring Group’s 2013 report was conducted in accordance with the highest investigative standards, relying upon a team of world class investigators at both Shulman Rogers and FTI Consulting. This was in stark contrast to the shoddy investigation conducted by the Monitoring Group itself in 2013. Our report was the exact opposite of a “cover-up.” We sought to shine a bright light on the actual evidence. We gathered thousands of pages of accounting records, interviewed scores of witnesses, and, with the help of accomplished forensic accountants, fully traced the assets that the Monitoring Group said they could not trace. We presented the facts as we learned them for the world to review and scrutinize. We hired leading media consultants, who issued a press release that was disseminated far and wide. We conducted a news conference in Mogadishu, explaining our report and inviting broad review and discussion. To this day, the Monitoring Group has not identified any substantive part of our report—not even a single word, phrase, or idea in the document—that is incorrect or otherwise misplaced.
Given that all of the purported findings in his 2014 report are false and easily disproven, the question must be asked—what is motivating Chopra to make frivolous claims of corruption against the Somali government and against those assisting the government? Why is he doing this? Who is he working for?
Last year, the Monitoring Group filed an utterly baseless financial report, falsely claiming that they had evidence that the Central Bank of Somalia was operating as a slush fund and that its then Governor was misappropriating funds. We were counsel to the government at the time, and the government asked that we investigate the Monitoring Group’s claims and respond to them. In the course of our investigation, we readily concluded that the Monitoring Group’s claims of corruption were totally false, and that we were able to trace the funds that the Monitoring Group said were missing. We were surprised to find that the Monitoring Group team (a) had little training and experience investigating complex financial and accounting issues, (b) failed to adhere to basic investigative standards, including those promulgated by the UN itself, and (c) seemed to be driven more by a political agenda than a search for truth. We drafted for the government a sharp rebuttal report bringing to light the real evidence, which showed appropriate accounting at the Central Bank and catalogued in detail the Monitoring Group’s investigative failures. Subsequent to the issuance of the our report, the Somali government formally requested of the United Nations that severe action be taken against the Monitoring Group, including removing Chopra from his position as its coordinator.
After release of our report, Chopra reportedly told others that he “was coming after Shulman Rogers” to exact revenge for our critical work. It has also been reported that he believes that his job is “to destroy people,” which is apparently what he is trying to do with the character assassination that permeates his latest report.
So that is one motivation behind what Chopra is doing now: trying to settle a personal score against us because of what we exposed about the Monitoring Group in our report last year.
There is a second and even more serious motivation. Chopra reveals this on the last page of his recent report when he recommends that the UN Security Council take steps to block any further efforts by Somalia—a sovereign state—to recover its state assets. Putting aside that such a block cannot be legally accomplished and would be easily challenged in court, Chopra is revealing what really bothers him about our work. He does not want this work to continue, and he regrets that it has succeeded thus far. He wants the assets of Somalia to be under the control of the international community rather than the Somali government itself. He does not want the Somali President—or the Somali government—to empower themselves by reclaiming the government’s assets and putting them to work directly to improve security, educate children, and create stable government institutions. In Chopra’s world view, these projects—if they will be done at all—must be done by the international community. In his view, Somalis themselves cannot be trusted.
Our asset recovery project is founded on a much different way of thinking. It rests on the principle that the Somali government is sovereign, that by virtue of its legitimacy it can make its own decisions, and it has the legal and moral right to recover its own funds and use them for rebuilding Somalia. It is particularly critical that now, when the UN itself has warned of an imminent famine and the urgent need for assets to avert a human catastrophe, the Somali government be able to reclaim its own funds and put them to work to address the looming crisis.
Unfortunately, Chopra has chosen to resort to character assassination and other unseemly tactics to achieve his political agenda. Embedded in his latest report is evidence suggesting that Chopra or those working with him have broken laws in an effort to gather evidence, and have forged certain documents to fit Chopra’s false narrative, and he relies on media leaks to try to damage good people’s reputations.
The President of Somalia is a good and honest man. So too are Abdiaziz Amalo and Musa Ganjab. Fawzia Adam is a faithful public servant with high integrity. All of them are now under attack by Chopra for working honestly and in good faith trying to help the Somali government succeed.
Chopra’s reckless personal attacks and recriminations must stop immediately. Steps are being taken now to commence legal actions against him to obtain redress in court for his illegal conduct. These lawsuits will be pursued vigorously until justice is done.
We will not be discouraged by the shrill words of one individual. We look forward to continuing our work for the Somali government and its people, and we are grateful for the opportunity that we have had to help in the important rebuilding efforts that the government is leading.
I am happy to take your questions. Thank you for your attention.