In the latest development in a prosecution previously covered on this blog, Privinvest Group executive Jean Boustani was acquitted of all charges on Dec. 2 by a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, following a six-week trial.
The case centered on nearly $2 billion in loans from Credit Suisse and Russian financer VTB to help fund maritime projects in Mozambique. Prosecutors alleged that Boustani paid $100 million in bribes and kickbacks to high-ranking Mozambican government officials to secure three lucrative contracts for his employer, Privinvest Group, an international shipbuilding firm based in Abu Dhabi. Privinvest Group itself was not charged in this case.
Boustani, a Lebanese national, was found not guilty on all counts brought against him, including conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit securities fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering after taking the stand in his own defense. Boustani and his lawyers readily admitted that he paid millions of dollars to Mozambican officials, but the government did not bring actual bribery charges against Boustani beyond the conspiracy counts, likely because of a recent decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, U.S. v. Hoskins, 902 F.3d 69 (2d Cir. 2018). In that decision, the Second Circuit held that non-U.S. citizens cannot be charged with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act if the defendant does not have a sufficient nexus to a U.S. company and the alleged wrongdoing took place in another country.
After the acquittal, jurors, including the jury foreman, stated that the evidence presented by prosecutors failed to show why venue was proper in the U.S., especially in the Eastern District of New York, when Boustani had never been to the U.S. before he was arrested. Prosecutors asserted at trial that most of the transactions at issue in the case were conducted in U.S. dollars and involved U.S. correspondent banks, but those ties were not strong enough for jurors to conclude that Boustani should be held accountable for any wrongdoing in the U.S.