While in 2023 an investigation led by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), in collaboration with multiple international media partners, did unveil the widespread abuse of citizenship by investment programs in the Caribbean, particularly in Dominica, and where the probe shed light on the intricate web of fraudulent schemes that allowed criminals to secure citizenship in exchange for substantial investments, tarnishing the reputation of these programs, one of the prime accused in the investigation was Danhong “Jean” Chen, an immigration lawyer from Atherton, California, who was indicted in 2018 for orchestrating a fraudulent scheme with her husband. The couple amassed over US$12 million by embezzling funds from foreign investors seeking US residency over nearly a decade. Chen’s escape from the US using a Dominican passport under an assumed name – Maria Sofia Taylor – raised serious questions about the program’s oversight and due diligence protocols.
On October 30, 2023, Blitz published a report giving details of the matter, on February 1, 2024 – more than two months of publication of it, a suspicious email was received by this newspaper from an individual named Shifeng Yue, who pretended to be a lawyer.
In the email, Shifeng Yue wrote:
Upon examination, the following URLs is untrue and contain defaming content regarding my client Law Offices of Jean D. Chen. Please remove defaming images.
Attorney at Law
Mission Pacific Global Law Group
226 Airport Parkway Suite 600
San Jose, CA 95110.
In addition to sending such ridiculous emails directly to newspaper, the individuals involved in visa scams and connections with controversial citizenship and passport selling ventures of Dominica and other Caribbean island nations, have also been attempting to get news links removed from Google search by employing ‘Reputation Management Firms’ through pressing fictitious copyright claims under the under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act. While searching information on Danhong “Jean” Chen (Jean Danhong Chen, age 54), alias Maria Sofia Taylor and her business partner Jianyun “Tony” Ye (Tony Jianyun Ye, age 51), the Google search result says: “In response to multiple complaints that we received under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, we have removed 8 results from this page. If you wish, you may read the DMCA complaints that caused the removals at LumenDatabase.org: Complaint, Complaint”.
It may be mentioned here that most of the criminals looking to getting contents removed from Google search engine are using Tumblr for creating back-dated posts on this site for their attempted copyright claims.
According to the US Department of Justice (DoJ) Danhong “Jean” Chen (54), alias Maria Sofia Taylor and her business partner Jianyun “Tony” Ye (51) “submitted to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) fraudulent documents that contained false signatures and falsely described how applicants would qualify for the EB-5 program”. They were charged under the US penal codes on allegations of visa fraud, obstruction of Justice, and aggravated identity theft.
Immediately after completion of investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and before being indicted by the US court, Danhong “Jean Chan (54) fled the United States and became a naturalized citizen of Dominica in October 2018. She might have used a different name – Maria Sofia Taylor while buying Dominica citizenship.
It may be mentioned here that on March 26, 2019, the United States Attorney’s Office in a press release titled ‘Owner Of South Bay Law Firm And Office Manager Charged With Committing Large-Scale Immigration Visa Fraud’ said:
A federal grand jury indicted Danhong “Jean” Chen, a/k/a Maria Sofia Taylor, and her business partner Jianyun “Tony” Ye in connection with an immigration visa fraud scheme, announced United States Attorney David L. Anderson, Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett, Securities and Exchange Commission Office of the Inspector General, Inspector General Carl Hoecker. The 14-count indictment, filed March 7, 2019, and unsealed late yesterday, alleges the defendants committed visa fraud and related crimes to obtain immigration benefits for more than 100 foreign investors through the government’s Employment-Based Immigration Fifth Preference, or “EB-5,” visa program.
According to the indictment, Chen, 54, of Atherton, was the sole partner at the Law Offices of Jean D. Chen, which held itself out as specializing in immigration law. Ye, 51, also of Atherton, was formerly married to Chen and held himself out as the manager of Chen’s law office. The indictment alleges Chen and Ye prepared and submitted to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) fraudulent documents that contained false signatures and falsely described how applicants would qualify for the EB-5 program.
Under the EB-5 program, foreign nationals may obtain permanent United States residency, commonly known as “green card” status, by investing in qualifying American businesses. Alien investors who comply with program requirements initially receive a grant of conditional permanent residency status for a two-year period. After two years, the alien investor can petition for permanent residency. To obtain permanent residency status, the applicant’s investment must amount to $500,000 if made in certain geographical areas with low employment rates; if the investment is not in a designated low-employment area, the investment must amount to a minimum of $1,000,000. In addition, under the EB-5 program, applicants may make use of “regional centers.” Entrepreneurs seeking investments for American businesses may establish regional centers to promote investment opportunities and make such opportunities available to EB-5 applicants. The regional centers generally promote investment opportunities within designated geographic areas. The Law Offices of Jean D. Chen represented clients who invested a total of approximately $52,000,000 into projects under the EB-5 program.
In this case, the indictment describes steps taken by Chen and Ye to fraudulently obtain immigration benefits through the EB-5 program on behalf of their clients. First, the indictment alleges that Chen and Ye falsified documents to hide the true ownership and nature of a regional center. Specifically, the indictment alleges that in 2014, Chen and Ye purchased the Golden State Regional Center and other entities, and almost immediately after the purchase, transferred ownership to a straw owner. The person to whom the entity was transferred did not know she was being named as the owner. Also, Chen and Ye filed papers with USCIS, requesting that the government continue to recognize Golden State Regional Center as a regional center qualified to promote EB-5 investment within the South Bay. The papers contained false signatures of the purported straw owner. Second, defendants prepared and submitted falsified EB-5 applications. For example, visa applications contained false signatures of the purported straw owner, false statements about the extent to which the Law Offices of Jean D. Chen represented both the investor and Golden State Regional Center, and false statements about the manner in which investor funds would be used.
The indictment also charges defendants with obstruction of justice related to investigations being conducted by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the FBI. On October 18, 2018, the SEC filed a civil complaint against Chen, Ye, and other individuals and entities, alleging, among other things, that Chen and Ye improperly solicited investments and committed other violations of law. The indictment alleges that during the course of the SEC’s investigation, defendants made demands of the straw owner of Golden State Regional Center that she provide false answers to SEC investigators. Further, the defendants allegedly logged onto someone else’s email account and deleted emails relevant to the FBI’s investigation into the visa fraud.
In sum, Chen and Ye both are charged with ten counts of visa fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1546(a); one count of obstruction of justice, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1505; one count of obstruction of justice, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(b)(3); and one count of aggravated identity theft, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A. In addition, Ye is charged with one count of identity theft, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1018(a)(7).
The October 30, 2023 Blitz report said:
Dominica is not alone in offering citizenship by investment. At least four other Caribbean islands offer similar programs, as do several countries in Europe and the Middle East, including Turkey. But what sets Dominica apart is that it has long faced criticism from Western governments for its lax attitude towards ensuring that suspected criminals and politically exposed people don’t get passports from the country.
In a 2019 report, the US State Department called Dominica’s due diligence “lax” and stated that the country “does not always deny citizenship to those who are red flagged.” A follow-up report published in 2022 said that “Dominica sometimes issues passports despite adverse information uncovered during vetting”. The UK, which previously allowed visa-free access to Dominican citizens, introduced a visa requirement on July 19. In a statement, the UK’s home secretary Suella Braverman said that Dominica’s citizenship investment program had “shown clear and evident abuse of the scheme, including the granting of citizenship to individuals known to pose a risk to the UK”.
“[Dominica doesn’t] have any other resources besides tourism. So that’s why they do this”, says Reaz Jafri, a private client and tax attorney at law firm Withersworldwide who focuses on immigration. “They’re relatively inexpensive. People do it primarily to have a good travel document. The due diligence, with 10 being very rigorous…I think these Caribbean countries are maybe around 5 or 6”.
Despite the controversy, the program has been a massive revenue generator for the Dominican government since it was first established in 1993. Skerrit, who has served as prime minister since 2004, announced in 2020 that the country had raised US$1.2 billion from the program in the previous three years alone. In the 2021-22 financial year, the most recent year where full records are available, Dominica received 459 million East Caribbean dollars (US$170 million) from the citizenship by investment program—54% of total revenues.
And interest in the program is rising: according to London-based law firm Henley & Partners, which assists clients in getting residence and citizenship by investment, enquiries regarding Dominican citizenship by investment rose 729 percent in 2020, 131 percent in 2021 and 13 percent in 2022.
Even without access to the UK, Dominican citizenship provides a key benefit for nefarious individuals facing sanctions or seeking to flee their home countries: a “clean” travel document. Dominican passports allow visa-free, visa-on-arrival or electronic visa access to 132 countries, including China, the European Union and Singapore.
Several more controversial figures have used the scheme to get a second passport. One of them is Kyle Livingston Davies, the cofounder of former cryptocurrency hedge fund Three Arrows Capital, which filed for bankruptcy in July 2022. Davies received Dominican citizenship in 2009, three years before launching Three Arrows.
Despite the increasing scrutiny, interest in Dominican citizenship by investment has continued to surge, with a staggering rise in inquiries in recent years.
The investigation, titled “Dominica: Passports of the Caribbean”, exposed several alarming instances of abuse. Notably, it revealed that the Dominican authorities granted citizenship to multiple high-profile individuals, including sanctioned Russian oligarchs and a controversial crypto investor wanted in Singapore. The findings have sparked global concerns about the integrity and credibility of the citizenship acquisition process in the region.
One of the prime cases outlined in the investigation involved
The Dominican citizenship by investment program, touted as the “fastest and most affordable” in the world, has been a lucrative venture for the Dominican government, generating significant revenue since its inception in 1993. However, the program’s lax scrutiny of applicants, as highlighted by the US State Department and the UK government, has drawn criticism from international authorities.
In his 2023 address to the nations, Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said Dominica’s vetting system “is multi-layered and handled by top-rated due diligence agencies based in the UK and the USA”.
“Dominica has taken the lead in this region in seeking regional coordination on the various [citizenship-by-investment] programs and in discussing ways to safeguard all of these programs”, he added.
But experts say passports such as those sold by Dominica can be an attractive prospect for fugitives looking to set themselves up in jurisdictions beyond the reach of authorities back home.
“If you’re a government official embezzling public funds or a businessperson making dodgy deals, chances are you’re worried about future prosecution”, said Eka Rostomashvili of Transparency International.
“When the going gets tough, a golden passport in your back pocket allows you to skip town. New citizenship — and potentially a new identity — comes in handy if you want to evade law enforcement and prosecution efforts”.
Dominican officials contacted by Blitz did not respond to requests for comment on the citizenship-by-investment program.
The following is a list of people who obtained Dominica passports who are currently, or who have previously been, wanted by authorities.
Glory Oseidebame and Muyiwa Charles Folorunso – Oseidebame and Folorunso are Nigerian entrepreneurs who received Dominican passports in 2017. In 2021, Lagos police circulated bulletins seeking their arrest for allegedly defrauding investors out of up to 1 billion naira — roughly US$1.3 million at today’s rates — through Ponzi schemes offering investments in start-ups in fields such as pig farming. Their warrants cited charges of obtaining money under false pretenses and theft. The pair are still wanted by Nigerian police, who told OCCRP they are seeking an Interpol red notice for their arrest. The pair did not respond to requests for comment.
Mehdi Ebrahimi Eshratabadi – Eshratabadi obtained a passport from Dominica in 2015. He also obtained a Cypriot passport under the name Tony Newman. He is currently wanted by Iran to face fraud charges in court and is subject of an active Interpol Red Notice issued in 2019.
In March 2022, Cypriot authorities issued a notice saying they would revoke his Cypriot passport.
Contacted by journalists, Eshratabadi’s lawyer said his client denied any wrongdoing and that he was fighting the charges. The lawyer said Eshratabadi had acquired his Dominica passport and changed his name legally “years before any allegations were made against him by the Iranian regime”. Of Cyprus, he said that “at the time when he applied for Cypriot citizenship, there were no pending criminal cases or allegations” against him. He said his Cypriot passport had not been revoked.
Prateek Vijay Gupta – In 2022, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation sought Gupta’s arrest on charges of illegally siphoning off hundreds of millions of dollars from loans made by public sector banks. He obtained a Dominica passport in 2018. His current whereabouts are unclear. Gupta’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.
Aman Lohia – The son of an Indian businessman, Aman Lohia obtained a Dominica passport in 2018. That same year, he fled to Dubai with his young daughter — who also held a Dominica passport — amid a custody battle with his wife. Lohia and his daughter were brought back to India in 2020 after an Interpol red notice was issued against him. Lohia’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment, and Indian authorities did not respond to questions about the current status of the case.
Preeti Chandra – The wife of Sanjay Chandra, an Indian real estate promoter who was convicted for money laundering and is currently serving a prison sentence in India. Preeti Chandra was also convicted last year by a lower court in the same case for helping move her husband’s money overseas. (She has appealed the sentence at the country’s highest court and is currently out on bail.) She was arrested the previous year while attempting to use her Dominica passport — which she obtained in 2009 — to leave the country, Indian investigators said in court filings related to the case. The two did not respond to requests for comment.