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You can dance with Mozambican officials, but you can’t bribe them. That’s what a Privinvest Group executive told a New York jury in his defense against charges of fraud and money laundering tied to a $2 billion loan scandal in the African country.
Jean Boustani contradicted the testimony of two Credit Suisse AG bankers who said they were paid off to help approve loans, insisting he and his boss were shocked at the idea of paying bribes and kickbacks to secure business in Mozambique.
During his second day on the stand, Jean Boustani told the federal jury in Brooklyn, New York, that when a Mozambican demanded a $50 million “success fee” to get approval for a maritime project, he immediately notified his boss, French-Lebanese billionaire Iskandar Safa, the co-owner of Privinvest. Safa was appalled, Boustani said.
“Mr. Safa said ‘Jean, look, I’ve never seen this in my life,’” Boustani said. “He said ‘I hope you will be successful in this, for the company, for you, but I don’t see this going far with such an attitude, but look, keep the tango dancing, as we say. Let’s see where it will go. I don’t see it going now, but just keep tango dancing with these guys and let’s see where it will go.’”
Boustani denied paying any bribes or kickbacks to either Mozambican officials or bankers. During the trial, former Credit Suisse bankers Andrew Pearse and Surjan Singh told jurors that Privinvest paid them tens of millions of dollars to help arrange loans for three coastal projects that eventually swelled to $2 billion. Pearse testified Boustani paid him $45 million.
But Boustani said Tuesday that Privinvest paid Pearse $5.5 million for helping it negotiate a lower fee on a $372 million loan. Boustani said some money was also allocated to help Pearse launch a hedge fund after leaving the bank.
During the six-week trial, prosecutors have shown jurors dozens of emails which they say were from Mozambican officials seeking bribes. The U.S. said more than $150 million was paid out to government officials.
But Boustani said only one Mozambican asked him for a payment, which he eventually viewed as a “success fee” for introducing the company to government officials.
Pearse testified Ndambi Guebuza, the son of Mozambique’s former president, collected at least $50 million in illegal payments for helping introduce Privinvest executives to his father.
But Boustani said that during a personal audience with then-President Armando Guebuza and his son in early 2013, he told the president a Mozambican man had asked for a $50 million bribe, stunning the country’s leader.
“The president was frozen, then he looked at his son,” Boustani recounted. Then he quoted the president’s response: “Mr. Boustani, you are talking about big strategic projects. My answer to your question is simple: nobody, nobody, not me, not any public official in Mozambique will be allowed to take one penny in order to do their job for this project. You say no and you come to me and you tell them ‘no.’ I said, sorry but I had to do it.”
Boustani continues his testimony on Wednesday.
The case is U.S. v. Boustani, 18-cr-681, U.S District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).
By Patricia Hurtado
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