Maputo — The main victims of the gigantic fraud engineered by Jean Boustani, chief salesperson for the Abu Dhabi-based group Privinvest were "the 29 million people of Mozambique, one of the poorest nations in the world", accused prosecuting attorney Hiral Mehta, on Thursday, as the trial of Boustani before a New York court, on charges relating to the scandal of Mozambique's "hidden debts" drew to a close.
Boustani faces charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering, wire fraud and securities fraud, arising from his rule in obtaining loans of over two billion US dollars from the banks Credit Suisse and VTB of Russia for three fraudulent Mozambican companies, Proindicus, Ematum (Mozambique Tuna Company) and MAM (Mozambique Asset Management).
Summing up the prosecution case, according to the transcript of the Thursday proceedings, Mehta depicted Boustani as a Robin Hood in reverse. "Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave to the poor", he said. "The defendant and his co-conspirators stole from one of the poorest nations on earth, and gave to the rich, themselves. That's what they did when they stole more than 200 million dollars in bribes and kickbacks, when the defendant lined his own pockets".
Mehta told the jury that Boustani "was engaged in a two billion dollar fraud and money laundering scheme involving the Proindicus and EMATUM and MAM deals. He did
this by bribing Mozambican officials with over 100 million dollars to get the contract for Privinvest, paying more than 50 million dollars in kickbacks to bankers to get the loans approved, lying to banks and investors to get them to invest in the loans, causing almost 1.8 billion dollars in fraudulently obtained money to be wired from the US to Privinvest, and laundering millions of dollars using US banks".
Boustani was the central figure in a conspiracy to defraud, he argued. One of the extraordinary aspects of the loans from Credit Suisse and VTB. Meha noted, was that none of the money went to Mozambique - it was all sent directly to Privinvest, as the sole contractor for Proindicus, Ematum and MAM.
"All the money, even though Mozambique's the borrower, even though they're the ones on the hook for those loans, where does the money go? To the contractor ! In a lump sum!", he exclaimed. "Hundreds of millions of dollars straight to Privinvest!"
The only way Boustani could persuade Credit Suisse and VTB to send Privinest that money was by lying to the banks.
Would the banks have paid up, "If he told Credit Suisse and VTB 'By the way, we are paying millions of dollars to Mozambican officials, including the guy signing the guarantees for these loans (the then Finance Minister Manuel Chang). By the way, we are paying your own employees, Andrew Pearse and Surjan Singh (two former Credit Suisse bankers who confessed to their role in the fraud)?"
Of course the banks would not have lent the money, if they had known the truth, said Mehta. "So he lied to them. And he knew that the investors did not know about the bribes and kickbacks. You heard investor after investor testify. No-one would have invested in these loans if they knew about the bribes".
"It is a conspiracy to lie to get money", declared the prosecutor. "It is simple. It is straightforward. And the evidence proves it beyond a reasonable doubt".
And Proindicus, Ematum and MAM all defaulted. "These deals failed because they were corrupt from the start", declared Mehta. "Because at the end of the day, this is not about helping the people of Mozambique. It is about money".
Boustani admitted to making payments to Chang and other senior Mozambique officials, but he called them "fees", not "bribes". Mehta swept this argument aside as just playing with words.
"You can call them what you want. Success fees. Influence fees", he said. "They are bribes. You pay government officials in connection with projects that they're on? A CEO of the project you are working with? Or they guy signing the guarantees? It is bribes. Plain as day".