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Chinese tycoon Zhang Li admits to bribing Mohammed Nuru in SF corruption scandal

Former S.F. public works director Nuru given 7 years in federal prison
Former S.F. public works director Nuru given 7 years in federal prison 02:25

SAN FRANCISCO – A property tycoon from China has admitted to bribing a top San Francisco public official in a corruption scandal that has gripped City Hall.

Northern California U.S. Attorney Ismail Ramsey's office announced Wednesday that 70-year-old Zhang Li admitted to bribing former Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru. Zhang entered a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office, in which the charge would be dismissed in three years if Zhang abides by the terms.

"The criminal charges and resolutions announced today send a clear message that this office will not tolerate the corruption of public officials in the District by anyone, including individuals acting from outside of the United States," said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Robbins. "To those who seek to corrupt public officials in the United States, wherever they are, we will use the powers at our disposal to bring them to justice and hold them accountable to the rule of law."

According to court documents, Zhang bribed Nuru during a trip he took to China in 2018, providing the former public works director with food, drinks, luxury lodging and transportation. The bribes were intended to provide favorable treatment on decisions involving the development of a mixed-use property at 555 Fulton Street.

Prosecutors also said Z&L properties, which was controlled by Zhang, will plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and honest services wire fraud for its role in the scheme. The company managed the development of 555 Fulton Street and facilitated the payment of bribes to Nuru.

Along with the guilty plea, the company will pay a $1 million fine and enter into a corporate compliance program, prosecutors said.

Zhang was charged by criminal complaint in May 2021 and was arrested in the United Kingdom in late 2022. He agreed to be extradited back to the U.S. six months later.

"The citizens of San Francisco deserve better, and we stand firmly committed to investigating both corrupt officials and private citizens who attempt to bribe them, no matter where they reside," said FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert Tripp.

More than 14 people and entities have been charged in connection with the bribery and public corruption scandal, including Nuru and Harlan Kelly, the former general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

Nuru is in the midst of serving an 84 month sentence after pleading guilty to wire fraud last year.

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