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FSM: Top Micronesia Officials Guilty in Fake Ship Registry Scam
By News Release @ 6:17 PM :: 2044 Views :: Ethics, Jones Act

Martin Jano Found Guilty of Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering & Lukner Weilbacher Found Guilty of Conflict of Interest in Micronesia International Ship Registry Case

News Release from FSM Public Information Office,  February 1, 2023

PALIKIR, Pohnpei—On January 26th, 2023, the Executive Branch of the Government of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) received the FSM Supreme Court’s Memorandum of Decision regarding Criminal Case No. 2020-501, which memorializes the Court’s decision made from the bench on January 17th, 2023, at the conclusion of trial. Criminal Case No. 2020-501 was a criminal case filed against Suniel K. Sharma doing business as Jash International Maritime Law & Business Management (Unit of Ascent Navals Thailand) also known as the Micronesia International Ship Registry, in addition to several FSM citizens—Lukner Weilbacher, Martin Jano, and Renwick Weilbacher. Suniel K. Sharma was severed at the start of trial due to his continued absence from the FSM. Renwick Weilbacher was acquitted when his Rule 29 motion was granted after the close of the prosecution’s case-in-chief. Martin Jano and Lukner Weilbacher were acquitted of the conspiracy to commit theft of national government property charges because no government property was itself involved. Martin Jano was found guilty on the conspiracy to commit money laundering charge. Lukner Weilbacher was found guilty on the conflict-of-interest charge and acquitted on the exertion of special interest charge.

International media, foreign governments and non-government organizations, and FSM citizens should be aware at the forefront that the ultimate reason for the criminal case was on the premise that an open ship registry is unlawful in the FSM. The FSM only permits a closed registry, where vessels (i.e., boats and ships etc.) can only be registered by qualified FSM persons, who are either FSM citizens; FSM-citizen corporations; persons, including corporations, with FSM national government foreign investment permits and with their principal place of business in the FSM; or the FSM’s national, state, and/or municipal governments. The Micronesia International Ship Registry was an unlawful enterprise.

Suniel K. Sharma is a dual citizen of the U.S. and India and has not been in the FSM for several years; he remains at large and is being pursued by the U.S. FBI and the FSM Department of Justice.  Martin Jano is an FSM citizen and a lawyer, and was found guilty on the conspiracy to commit money laundering charge. Lukner Weilbacher is an FSM citizen and was the former Secretary of transportation, Communications, & Infrastructure under the administration of H.E. Peter M. Christian; he was found guilty on the conflict-of-interest charge. Renwick Weilbacher is an FSM citizen and is the only one of the four persons noted in the original filing from the FSM Department of Justice who the Court has determined to be not guilty for all charges made against him.

The first section of the Memorandum of Decision describes the Conspiracy to Commit Theft Counts. Defendant Lukner Weilbacher and defendant Martin Jano were charged with conspiring with severed co-defendant Suniel K. Sharma through the collection of fees for the registration of foreign vessels under the FSM flag in an open ship registry that Sharma, or one of his companies, operated in the FSM’s name. Weilbacher, Jano, and Sharma agreed that an open international ship registry should be setup for the FSM and set about trying to accomplish this. 

An open ship registry is unlawful in the FSM. The FSM only permits a closed registry, where vessels (i.e., boats and ships etc.) can only be registered by qualified FSM persons, who are either FSM citizens; FSM-citizen corporations; persons, including corporations, with FSM national government foreign investment permits and with their principal place of business in the FSM; or the FSM’s national, state, and/or municipal governments. The Micronesia International Ship Registry was an unlawful enterprise.

Sharma was able to setup and operate the Micronesia International Ship Registry and register 103 ineligible vessels and collect registration fees from their owners because Lukner Weilbacher, then Secretary of the Department of Transportation, Communications, & Infrastructure, wrote a letter of intent dated October 2nd, 2015, that was written to authorize the registry’s operations and which Sharma used to implement the scheme.

The FSM was not entitled to any of the funds Sharma collected because none of the ships that paid registry fees could lawfully be registered to fly the FSM flag. The FSM Supreme Court’s Memorandum of Decision says: “The Court is not saying that there was no theft…or no conspiracy to commit theft. The theft was from the 103 shipowners. They paid registration fees to [the Micronesia International Ship Registry] and did not get what they paid for—a valid FSM ship registration.”

The second section of the Memorandum of Decision describes the Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering. Count 123 of the original 260-page filing charged Martin Jano with conspiring with Suniel K. Sharma to collect money from the unlawful registration of numerous vessels, and that those funds were proceeds of a serious crime, all in violation of the money laundering statute under Title 11 of the FSM Code, Section 918. “The general finding on this count is guilty,” the Supreme Court wrote.

All ship registry fees collected by the Micronesia International Ship Registry (including the seafarer’s identification book fees) were the proceeds of serious crimes. A conspiracy to commit money laundering charge does not require that each conspirator actually possess proceeds of the crime to establish criminal liability for the conspiracy—Sharma’s undisputed possession of the proceeds would be more than enough to meet the element of an overt act by one of the co-conspirators to further the conspiracy. (Or the creation of the Micronesia International Ship Registry would also suffice).

However, in this case, defendant Jano did possess proceeds of the serious crime. The Court writes that “the most salient occasion was Jano’s possession of the $100,000 check from [the Micronesia International Ship Registry] that Jano tried to give to the FSM as the FSM’s ‘share’ of the ship registry fees…. This is particularly telling because it occurred not only after Jano had been informed that the…scheme was unlawful but also after Jano had advised Sharma that he should cease some operations because what he was doing was illegal…. By later presenting the check to the FSM, Jano was still acting in furtherance of the conspiracy.”

“This would be an instance of what the general public thinks of when it hears the term ‘money laundering’,” the Supreme Court wrote. “Making dirty money (crime proceeds) clean. If the FSM had accepted the $100,000 payment by check, Sharma could then argue that the FSM had retroactively ratified his MISR activities thus not only validating MISR’s previous unlawful acts and activities, but also making the revenue, the money, MISR generated ‘clean.’”

“The FSM was probably wise to reject the $100,000 check,” the Supreme Court wrote.

Section three of the Memorandum of Decision describes the Conflict-of-Interest Count. Count 485 of the original 260-page filing charged the then Secretary of the Department of Transportation, Communications, & Infrastructure, Lukner Weilbacher, with violating the conflict-of-interest statute under Title 11 of the FSM Code, Section 512, by willingly participating in Sharma’s scheme to create an open international ship registry for the FSM while, at the same time, knowing that if the registry operated on Pohnpei, that the registry would continue to compensate his son, Renwick Weilbacher, for continuing services and for possible additional future services rendered for the Micronesia International Ship Registry. “The court’s general finding on this count is guilty,” the Supreme Court wrote.

Section four of the Memorandum of Decision describes the Exerting Special Influence Count. Count 486 of the original filing charged Lukner Weilbacher with exerting special influence, in violation of Title 11 of the FSM Code Section 521 Subsection 1 by agreeing that his son, Renwick Weilbacher, would receive pecuniary benefit (i.e., money or something related to money) as consideration for his unlawful approval, as Secretary of the Department of Transportation, Communications, & Infrastructure, of the Micronesia International Ship Registry scheme. “The Court finds that there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was an agreement,” the Supreme Court wrote, “that only if MISR agreed to compensate Secretary Lukner Weilbacher’s son would the Secretary then authorize MISR, which is what the statute requires under the facts alleged in Count 486. Weilbacher is therefore acquitted on this count.”

The fifth and final section provides the FSM Supreme Court’s conclusion that both Martin Jano and Lukner Weilbacher are acquitted of the conspiracy to commit theft of national government property charges because no government property was itself involved; that Martin Jano is found guilty on the conspiracy to commit money laundering charge; and that Lukner Weilbacher is found guilty on the conflict-of-interest charge and acquitted on the exertion of special interest charge. Both convictions are felonies.

---30---

BIO: Weilbacher

2023: Two FSM nationals guilty of conspiracy to commit money laundering and conflict of interest in international shipping registry case

2023: Jano and Weilbacher convicted on two counts acquitted on others in fraudulent Vessel Flagging scheme

2020: Dec 24, 2020 — During the administration of FSM President Peter Christian, Weilbacher was the secretary of the Department of Transportation, Communications

2020: Fraudulent International Ship Registration Scandals hit Pacific Islands

2000: Pohnpei attorney Martin Jano and Elizebeth Ciupan, a Philippine national, had been convicted of violating the weapons laws in two different trials

1993: Jano extradition

1992: Martin Jano v. State of Texas and State Board of Insurance--Appeal from 201st District Court of Travis County

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