Ex-Och-Ziff executive pleads not guilty to U.S. criminal charges

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former executive at Och-Ziff Capital Management Group on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to U.S. criminal charges related to the fund firm’s activities in Africa.

Michael Cohen, who was formerly Och-Ziff’s head of European investing, faced charges including conspiracy and fraud. He pleaded not guilty before U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis in Brooklyn.

Prosecutors and Cohen’s lawyers said they agreed that Cohen should remain free living in England on a $10 million bail.

Cohen was indicted in January. Prosecutors said he concealed conflicts of interest from a U.K.-based charitable foundation and obstructed a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation into corruption involving the fund in Africa.

Prosecutors said that in 2010, Cohen induced a charitable foundation to invest in shares of a mining company, Strata Ltd, while concealing the fact that a seller of the shares owed Cohen $18 million and would use the proceeds to repay part of the loan.

The $18 million loan was originally made so the borrower could make a payment on a luxury yacht, according to the indictment.

The government also alleged that Cohen later tried to obstruct a SEC corruption investigation into Och-Ziff.

In September 2016, Och-Ziff agreed to pay more than $400 million to settle charges that it bribed officials in Libya, Congo and several other African countries. A unit of the company also agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges.

Separately, Och-Ziff’s founder, billionaire investor Dan Och, agreed to pay more than $2 million to settle claims with the SEC.

The bribery allegations hurt the firm as investors quickly pulled out money, shrinking its assets to $32 billion as of Jan. 1, 2018, compared with $39 billion in 2016.

Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot