MANHATTAN (CN) – At the close of a five-week trial, a federal prosecutor told a jury the government had proved that Connecticut handbag designer Fredric “Rick” Bourke tried to bribe senior officials in order to gain control of Azerbaijan’s immense oil industry — which would give him enough clout to change the former Soviet nation’s name to “Rickistan.”
Prosecutor Iris Lan was quoting the transcript of government witness John Pulley.
Bourke’s alleged partner, Viktor Kozeny – whom Pulley said tried to make the country “Vikistan” – admitted bribing senior Azeri officials, including then-President Haydar Aliyev; Aliyev’s son, who ran the oil company SOCAR; and two officials from the Azeri privatization committee.
But instead of redrawing the post-Cold War map, the plan unraveled when Aliyev refused to privatize the industry.
Kozeny is living as a fugitive in the Bahamas. If convicted of all charges, Bourke faces up to 30 years in prison for conspiracy, money laundering, and false statement charges.
In her final remarks, Lan said that all three pillars of the defense case failed to raise doubts about Bourke’s guilt. Lan said that defense attorney Saskia Jordan failed to support the argument she raised in her opening statement.
Jordan said she would show that Bourke’s efforts to get his former colleague prosecuted proved he did not know about the bribes.
But Lan said Bourke’s “so-called investigation” was “just a show” of his indignation; in fact, he never took a single “affirmative step to report” the illegal behavior, she said.
Jordan told jurors that no one would dare to have told Bourke about the bribes because he would not have gotten his high-profile friend, former Sen. George Mitchell, involved in an illegal business enterprise.
But Lan said the prosecution surprised the defense’s key character witness, Mitchell, by playing a tape of Bourke “bragging” that “George will do anything I suggest.”
And the defense claimed that Kozeny would not have included Bourke in his scheme because he was too busy swindling him and other American investors in a separate, alleged options fraud.
But Lan said that argument was illogical because Kozeny could have gotten Bourke’s help paying off senior Azeri officials while defrauding him, if he were doing that.
Lan argued that Kozeny stood to gain much more from Bourke’s help in privatization of SOCAR – which would have given its owners a multibillion-dollar bounty – than from the money he made from American investors in the alleged options fraud.
Lan’s daylong summation involved extensive use of PowerPoint. Lan projected large portions of court records onto a screen, generously excerpting transcripts of government witness testimony. She flashed images of charts, letters, emails and photographs that prosecutors submitted as evidence.
The slide show began with the charges. Bourke is charged with conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the Travel Act, which prohibit bribing senior officials and breaking any law abroad.
Count two is money laundering conspiracy, referring to Bourke’s alleged establishment of offshore shell companies to disguise the nature of the investments and make the bribes untraceable.
And Bourke is accused of lying to the FBI.
One of Bourke’s attorneys acknowledged that Bourke had “buried his head in the sand,” Lan said.
She said that Bourke did not have to play a central role in the conspiracy for the jury to return a guilty verdict; a “single act” suffices, she said. Under such a definition, even the circumstantial evidence is enough to convict him, she said.
She claimed that Bourke was so confident that President Aliyev would privatize his country’s oil that he must have known about the bribe, and that Bourke estimated there was a “90 to 95 percent chance” that Aliyev would privatize the industry.
She claimed that Bourke ignored a Fortune magazine article he read that called his business partner Kozeny a “Pirate of Prague” for an almost identical scheme in the former Czechoslovakia; that he dismissed his lawyer’s description of Azerbaijan as a lawless “wild, wild West;” and acknowledged that business was not done “at arm’s length in this part of the world,” without taking due diligence to avoid corruption.
Lan’s exhaustive recap of the trial included the much-discussed recorded phone conversation of Bourke’s conference with lawyers and investors about how to shield themselves from potential Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations; a memo of a later conversation that quoted one participant as saying that “this conversation never happened;” and testimony from key government witnesses Tom Farrell and Hans Bodmer, who said that Bourke asked them repeatedly whether Kozeny was bribing the Azeris enough.
The defense is expected to challenge the prosecution’s definitions as overbroad, to insist on direct evidence as the burden of proof for conviction, and question the credibility of the two witnesses, by saying that they were seeking a lighter sentence after they pleaded guilty to the conspiracy.
The trial is expected to conclude today with the defense’s summation and prosecutor Harry Chernoff’s rebuttal.