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File photo: Andrew Pearse. [File photo:Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg]
When Privinvest Group’s Chief Financial Officer Najib Allam emailed himself Excel Spreadsheets in November 2014 detailing the expenses he incurred in Mozambique, little did he know they would one day be used by U.S. prosecutors as a road map in a $2 billion fraud case.
Prosecutors argued the documents aren’t just business records but a “meticulously detailing of bribes and kickbacks,” which describe the real cost of doing business in Mozambique.
The spreadsheets are front and center at the Brooklyn, New York, fraud trial of Jean Boustani, a Privinvest executive accused by the U.S. of being behind a plan to get one of the world’s poorest countries to borrow billions of dollars and overpay for dubious maritime projects.
The Lebanese national procured contracts for Privinvest to sell ships and related equipment to three Mozambican-owned companies, agreeing to pay $50 million in kickbacks to three Credit Suisse Group AG bankers who helped arrange two loans, the U.S. said.
Boustani also paid off other Mozambican governmental officials, including Manuel Chang, the minister of finance at the time, and Armando Ndambi Guebuza, the son of the country’s former president, who got $50 million, according to prosecution witness. The U.S. alleges that Mozambican government officials, corporate executives and investment bankers stole a total of about $200 million.
Boustani’s lawyers argued the spreadsheets would invite speculation from the jury because they’re “riddled with acronyms and abbreviations” making them “incomprehensible” without a witness to explain.
But prosecutors convinced U.S. District Judge William Kuntz to let jurors see the documents by arguing Allam, an indicted co-conspirator in the case, used them to keep track of the bribes and kickback payments.
The spreadsheets also boosted the testimony of government witness Andrew Pearse, a former Credit Suisse banker who pleaded guilty to taking $45 million in kickbacks from Boustani and other Privinest officials.
During more than five days on the stand, Pearse named a litany of individuals he said Boustani had bribed, including the chief executive of three state companies, Antonio Carlos do Rosario — who prosecutors said is listed on the spreadsheets as “Rosario”; Guebuza, who appears as “ArGe”; and the former finance minister, who’s listed as “Chang.” Pearse appears on the sheets as “AP” and Boustani as “JB,” prosecutors said.
One spreadsheet titled “EMATUM,” details Privinvest payments tied to a multimillion-dollar loan to fund a tuna-fleet. “ArGe” got $21 million in that case; “JB,” got $9 million, “Rosario” was paid $8.7 million and “Chang” received $5 million, according to the spreadsheet.
Boustani was one of eight people originally charged in the U.S., accused not of bribery, but of conspiring to defraud investors by making false statements about whether bribes and kickbacks were made to win business. In addition to Pearse, two other Credit Suisse bankers pleaded guilty.
Three others charged aren’t in U.S. custody, including Chang, Rosario and Teofilo Nhangumele, a Mozambican who prosecutors said acted on behalf of the office of the president. Allam, a Lebanese citizen, isn’t in U.S. custody and his lawyer Samidh Guha declined to comment.
Meanwhile, shipbuilder Privinvest said both the spreadsheets and Pearse are wrong.
“Privinvest rejects any suggestion of wrongdoing or impropriety with respect to the Mozambique maritime projects,” the company said in a statement. “The company will continue to set the record straight regarding its performance under the contracts.”
In August, Mozambique charged 20 people in the corruption case including Guebuza, Chang and Rosario. Guebuza wasn’t charged in the U.S.
Boustani’s lawyers have maintained throughout the trial their client was “deeply involved” in making payments in Mozambique, noting jurors may not like that.
“Not all countries are like the United States,” Schachter told jurors in opening arguments. “In Africa, making payments to government officials is the cost of doing business and the evidence will show that’s the way it is in Mozambique.”
The case is U.S. v. Boustani, 18-cr-681, U.S District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).
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