U.S. charges two former Herbalife executives in China in bribery scheme – person familiar

© Reuters. A Herbalife sign is shown on a building in Los Angeles, California

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Two former executives of a Chinese unit of Herbalife Nutrition Ltd (N:) were criminally charged in the United States on Thursday over an alleged decade-long scheme to bribe Chinese government officials and circumvent the company’s internal accounting controls, a person familiar with the matter said.

Yanliang Li, also known as Jerry Li, and Hongwei Yang, also known as Mary Yang, were each charged by the U.S. Department of Justice with conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, an anti-bribery law. Li was also charged with perjury and destroying records.

Both defendants are 51-year-old Chinese citizens and remain at large. Li also faces related civil charges by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The person familiar with the matter said Herbalife employed the defendants during the alleged criminal activity.

Lawyers for the defendants could not immediately be identified. Herbalife did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The company was not criminally charged.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in Manhattan accused Li and Yang of approving “extensive and systematic payments of bribes” to Chinese government officials from roughly 2007 to 2017, to expand Herbalife’s business and avoid regulatory scrutiny.

He also said Li lied under oath about the bribes when questioned by the SEC and destroyed evidence.

In afternoon trading, Herbalife shares were down 66 cents, or 1.5%, at $43.14.

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