Guernsey Returns Ray Bitar’s Laundered Full Tilt Money to US’s FBI
The Island of Guernsey, a self-governed British dependancy, has announced that it has returned more than US $13.15 million to the United States from a bank account controlled by former Full Tilt Poker CEO Ray Bitar.
Guernsey announced the return of the funds on Friday during a visit by dependency officials during a visit to the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. It marked the first time that Guernsey had transferred funds to the US under an asset-sharing deal reached in 2015, though the US has sent similar seized funds Guernsey’s way on a handful of previous occasions.
The funds seized from the Bitar-controlled account were identified by US officials as early as 2012, in conjunction with the “Black Friday” indictments handed down against Bitar, 10 other individuals, and three of the largest offshore companies offering online poker to US players.
According to an Island of Guernsey statement, “Between November 2012 and June 2015, U.S. prosecutors sent a series of three Mutual Legal Assistance requests to the Guernsey authorities seeking their assistance with the tracing, restraint, forfeiture and recovery of those laundered proceeds. In response to those requests, the Guernsey authorities restrained relevant bank accounts, provided bank records that facilitated the U.S. investigation and forfeiture, and ultimately gave effect to the final U.S. judgment of forfeiture and liquidated the accounts.”
Bitar faced a civil forfeiture of roughly $40 million in the case. He eventually reached a plea deal in 2013 with US prosecutors that saw him freed with virtually no time served, owing to a supposed heart defect — and the need for a transplant — that reportedly had approaching death’s door and having only months to live.
Instead, a very healthy-looking Bitar appeared about a year later via the publishing of his lavish wedding photos, thus making suspect the medical testimony offered by his defense.
Bitar and other prominent owners of the original Full Tilt Poker have long been suspected of collected laundering several hundred million dollars of ill-gotten corporate distributions in the years before the Black Friday crackdown shuttered the site. Full Tilt Poker closed in 2011 owing depositors more than $350 million. Most of the site’s players were made good through the US’s separate settlement with PokerStars, in which Stars received all of Full Tilt’s assets. Nonetheless, that doesn’t change the bald truth that Full Tilt’s owners, including Bitar, Howard Lederer, and Chris Ferguson, stole those hundreds of millions from the online-poker world.
The funds transfer from Guernsey makes a small dent in that gaping debt. The $13.1 million and change seized from the Bitar-controlled account actually makes up the lion’s share of a total transfer of roughly $14.3 million. The transfer also includes about $1.17 million transferred in connection with a “large scale importer of Columbian marijuana” who also used a Guernsey bank as a money-laundering depository.
The roughly $13.15 million transferred to the US represents exactly one half of the funds seized from the Bitar. Seized funds are split even between Guernsey and the US according to the terms of the asset-sharing agreement. This means that the total seized from the Bitar account was in the neighborhood of US $26.3 million.
Guernsey Attorney General (H.M. Procureur) Megan M.E. Pullum, Q.C., and Solicitor General (H.M. Comptroller) Robert M. Titterington, Q.C., made the announcement during a visit with officials of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division.
According to Guernsey’s Attorney General (H.M Procureur) Megan Pullum Q.C, “This case illustrates the dedication and persistence of Guernsey law enforcement authorities in working with overseas authorities and in successfully bringing a case to conclusion despite the process taking several years. It is an excellent example of successfully tracing and identifying proceeds of crime across jurisdictions and of repatriating such proceeds. Guernsey has an ongoing and exemplary commitment to international co-operation and mutual legal assistance and we are therefore extremely pleased to announce this asset share.”
M. Kendall Day, the DOJ’s Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General, added, “We are delighted that [Guernsey’s] many years of work on our behalf on these two cases is now resulting in the first-ever asset sharing from Guernsey to the United States, and also the second asset sharing to take place under the new permanent sharing agreement we signed together in 2015.”
Because the FBI was noted as the “seizing agency” in the case, the funds transferred from Guernsey to the US will be deposited into the Department of Justice’s Assets Forfeiture Fund.