The former owner of a Bucks County financial consulting firm admitted his role Wednesday in a transatlantic bribery scheme aimed at securing funding for foreign energy projects from a European economic development bank.
Dmitrij Harder, 43, of Huntingdon Valley, a dual German and Russian citizen, told a federal judge in Philadelphia that he attempted to conceal $3.5 million in payments he made to an official at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development between 2007 and 2009 by funneling the payoffs through accounts held by the banker's sister.
In return, the official - Andrey Ryjenko - approved investments and loans worth nearly $300 million for two clients of Harder's former company, Southampton-based Chestnut Consulting Group Inc.
As part of an agreement with prosecutors, Harder pleaded guilty Wednesday to two counts of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a law that criminalizes bribery of foreign officials. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Harder also agreed to forfeit $1.9 million.
Citing concern that he might flee the country, U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond denied a joint request from government lawyers and Harder's defense to allow him to remain out on bail until his sentencing date.
"Your client has repeatedly lied to the government, he phonied up a paper trail after he got caught, and he bribed an official with millions of dollars," the judge told Stephen LaCheen, a lawyer for Harder. "You have presented nothing to suggest - now that he is facing a significant prison term - that he is not a flight risk."
LaCheen declined to comment after his client's guilty plea.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, created after the collapse of the Iron Curtain to spur development in fledgling economies in the former Soviet bloc, is composed of 64 member country shareholders, the largest being the United States.
But the London-based bank has been racked by a series of scandals in recent years, including charges filed against its former top Russian official, whom British and Russian investigators accused of money laundering and soliciting bribes.
London police arrested Ryjenko, 43, and his sister, Tatjana Sanderson, 36, in 2010 after the bank received an anonymous tip outlining payments Harder made to Sanderson after Ryjenko approved funding for two clients of the Chestnut Consulting Group.
The indictment against Harder does not name either of his company's clients.
It describes one as a backer of natural-gas development in Russia, which received an $85 million equity investment and a loan of 90 million euros from the bank. The other, a British oil and gas corporation behind a project in an unnamed location, received a $40 million equity investment with a $60 million loan, the indictment said.
After securing financing for both deals, Harder was paid "success fees" totaling $8 million. He wired a series of payments worth $3.5 million to accounts held by Sanderson in Jersey and Guernsey, off the British coast.
The large influx of cash into Sanderson's account drew the suspicion of officials at her bank. Harder admitted Wednesday that he helped fake a number of invoices that Sanderson later would submit to his firm, suggesting she had earned the bribe money under contracts with Chestnut Consulting for her "expertise in the Russian real estate market."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Morgan said that Sanderson did no actual work for Harder's company and that several of his employees had never heard of her.
Ryjenko and Sanderson have denied the charges they are facing in London. Their trial began late last year but was abruptly halted in February. It is set to resume in June.
Harder, who holds a master's degree in economics from the Moscow Aviation Institute, has lived in America since 2001 with his wife, a psychologist for a U.S. Department of Homeland Security terrorism research center, and three children.
Because he is a legal permanent resident, he could face deportation after serving his sentence in a U.S. prison.