Mozambique: Mining in Zambezia continues to cost lives
[File photo: Savana ]
It was 3.55 p.m. local time when Jean Emile Boustani walked up to the Brooklin Court’s witness stand to make his deposition in the trial that opposes him to the United States government.
He wears dark grey executive trousers, a white collar shirt but no tie, a dark blue pullover. In rubber shoes. Of good quality. The clothing is for court sessions only. In prison he wears a uniform. Like all other detainees. He expresses himself in English. Almost without an accent.
At the invitation of his lawyer, Michael Schachter, he sketches out his own profile for the jurors who will soon decide his fate.
He was born in Beirut in 1978, in the midst of civil war, in a Maronite Christian family.
Because of the war, his father got a job in Saudi Arabia during the oil industry boom, when there were many opportunities. The Lebanese are known for their good education and easy access to employment, especially in the Middle East.
The Boustanis are a well-known family with a great tradition in the history of modern Lebanon.
Jean Emile accompanies the family to Saudi Arabia. He is 10 months old.
With the end of the civil war, around 1988/89, he returns to Beirut.
He attends the French Lyceum and then the University of St. Joseph, a private institution run by the Jesuits. Jesuit-run schools and universities are known for their rigor, and the high quality of teaching. He studied accounting for four years.
Still young, Boustani spoke, besides Arabic, French and English as well. His six-year-old son Leo already speaks the three languages common in his home. Jean Emile also speaks Portuguese and Spanish.
When he graduated in 2000, his first job was at the multinational Deloitte. He was 22 years old and worked in auditing. Sometimes also in consulting. In 2005, he leaves the firm in response to the challenge of a friend.
In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), it is normal for a state employee to have their own business. His friend worked at the Ministry of Finance in Abu Dhabi.
As he had always dreamed of Africa, his interest and that of his first business initiative was to develop business in Africa.
Boustani recalls the ancestors of the Lebanese, the Phoenicians, who traded throughout the Mediterranean basin. Also their sophistication, 3,000 years before Christ. The alphabet is believed to have been created in Phenicia, in the city of Byblos.
At that time, the boom in Africa was the development of mobile telephony and real estate expansion in urban centres.
The Lebanese traditionally have long been established on the west coast of Africa, especially in French-speaking countries. Boustani tries his luck on the east coast. In 2008, in his own words, he successfully completed a telecommunications project in Uganda.
It’s time to make the leap to a new challenge. He joins Iskandar Safa, the Maronite Christian born in Lebanon in 1955, based in Abu Dhabi and now of French nationality. Jean Emile had met Iskandar around 2004/2005.
Safa, with his brother Akram, developed an empire of shipbuilding yards, possibly the largest in the world. Through his Privinvest company, he owns three shipyards in Germany, one in France (which made the boats for the Mozambican project), one in Greece (which produces submarines), a shipbuilding equipment company in England and the Abu Dhabi MAR shipyard, which builds luxury yachts, among other things. Here, Safa’s partner is Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, the local emir. In France, he owns a huge real estate company with numerous properties.
Safa doesn’t know Africa. Boustani thinks Africa “has tremendous opportunities”.
Settled in his new job, he gets married in 2010. He has only one child, now six years old.
His job description is to sell Privinvest’s products and develop new business opportunities for the group. In Africa, he says, opening the doors of power, of official entities, requires local agents, intermediaries – lobbyists, as they are called in the United States. And these agents are paid depending on the services of business raised, closed. Commissions, success fees, a percentage of the project.
He arrives in Mozambique in March 2011 thanks to Basetsana Thokoane, the former ANC guerrilla who was a refugee in the country during the fight against apartheid. In Mandela’s time she works for the secret services of the new South Africa and maintains a network of contacts with influential people in Mozambique. As [is the case of] Rosario (Cyprian) Mutota, an agent of SISE also with private business interests. Bassy, as Boustani calls her, had previously assisted in bidding for a tender for the EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) off the coast of Namibia.
In Mozambique, he meets “brother” Teófilo Nhangumele, who organises a meeting with the Minister of Science and Technology, Venâncio Massingue. It was the beginning of the narrative that led to the creation of ProIndicus, Ematum and MAM and opened the door to the red carpet of Armando Guebuza’s presidency.
On 1 January, 2019, his African dream was interrupted. He was arrested in the late afternoon in San Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, where he intended to vacation with his wife. He is extradited the next day to New York and detained by the FBI. The Brooklyn court legalises his arrest on the same day. Judge William Kuntz II, a week later declines his provisional release on a US$20 million bail.
In court, on Monday he pleaded not guilty to money laundering conspiracy and fraud conspiracy crimes.
He told the court that he had never been to the United States before.
By Fernando Lima, in Brooklyn