MANHATTAN (CN) – Jurors said that despite “feeling bad for him,” they found that handbag designer Frederic Bourke conspired with a fugitive known as the “Pirate of Prague” to bribe officials from Azerbaijan in order to gain control of the country’s oil resources, in a place and time that one juror described as the “wild, wild west.” Jurors acquitted on the more serious charge of money laundering.
“I feel bad for him,” said juror Salome Banker-Singh, an administrative assistant with a non-profit, “but you put yourself in a bad situation.”
In 1997, Bourke jetted around the Caspian Sea region to discuss a business proposition with his colleague Viktor Kozeny, who admitted to the bribes and is living as a fugitive in the Bahamas.
Dubbed a “Pirate of Prague” by Fortune Magazine for a similar scheme to privatize major industries in the former Czechoslavakia, Kozeny has been successfully fighting extradition proceedings from both the United States and the Czech Republic.
Although Bourke had read the Fortune article about Kozeny’s Czech adventure at the time, he decided to invest anyway in Kozeny’s scheme to privatize Azerbaijan’s state-run oil industry SOCAR by buying vouchers from the country’s citizens – and paying off senior officials, all the way up to then-Azeri President Haydar Aliyev.
Throughout the trial, Bourke had maintained that he was just one of the many investors in Kozeny’s failed scheme that lost his money when it derailed two years later and said he was ignorant of the bribes.
However, jurors found there were too many “red flags” for Bourke not to have known.
Most jurors did not stay to speak to the press at the end of a five-week trial that began on June 1, 2009, but the ones remaining in the jury room spoke at an informal conference that gathered spontaneously after the verdict.
Barbara Robertson said that she and the other jurors even impressed Judge Shira Scheindlin, who walked in on their deliberations to discover them drawing up a detailed chart listing all “flags,” suggesting along with a corresponding timeline.
Robertson said that she did not remember just how many were on the list, although there were over six she counted. “It wasn’t emotional,” she described. “We were very methodical in going through.”
David Murphy, a juror with a British accent, added that one red flag that resonated with him was testimony from one of Bourke’s attorneys at the time, who described Azerbaijan as a “wild, wild West” whose lawlessness had echoes of Roman Polanski’s iconic film “Chinatown.”
Banker-Singh determined that the testimony two of the government’s key witnesses Hans Bodmer and Thomas Farrell were valid, despite the defense attorneys’ best attempts to discredit them.
Bodmer and Farrell pleaded guilty to participating in the conspiracy and signed agreements to provide testimony in related cases.
While the defense argued that their “sweetheart deals” motivated them to tell the court what prosecutors wanted to hear, Banker-Singh said that she and the other jurors found that their testimonies corresponded with too many known facts of the case to disbelieve fully.
In particular, she pointed out that a timeline that the prosecutors’ summer intern had drawn up helped her with “the linking of the dates and times.”
When asked about the testimony of Sen. George Mitchell, the current Mideast envoy who invested in participating companies, jurors David Murphy and Cesar Fernandez said that they did not think he knew anything about the bribes.
Mitchell maintained on the stand that he was too busy making peace between Britain and Northern Ireland, which reached a major agreement during the height of the Azeri scheme, to check in on the details of his investment. He was never charged for any wrongdoing.
Murphy said that the government “didn’t provide enough evidence” for Bourke’s money laundering charge, and it did not take long for the jurors to agree to acquit him on that charge.
In this acquittal, Bourke avoided the heaviest potential jail time during his sentencing, which would have been a maximum 20 years.
Instead, he faces five years for each of the other two counts: Conspiracy to Violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (barring bribes to foreign officials) and the Travel Act (prohibiting crossing national borders for the purpose of illegal activity) and False Statements (during his FBI proffer).