Testimony provided by VTB Bank’s Deputy General Counsel Cicely Leemhuis on Thursday produced some glaring inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case of U.S. v. Boustani, a trial that is proving to be a key test of how far outside U.S. borders American laws can stretch.
Federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York allege that Jean Boustani, a businessman who sold ships and systems to Mozambique, conspired with former Mozambican government officials and former foreign investment bankers to misappropriate funds in a scheme that they say came to impact U.S. investors.
But according to Leemhuis, who represents one of the banks that provided roughly $2 billion in loans to support the government of Mozambique’s maritime interests, some of the U.S. government’s allegations are less than credible.
Case in point, the VTB banker responsible for approving the Mozambique loans is not only still employed by the bank, but he has been promoted in the last few years. Additionally, Leemhuis said that VTB has found no evidence to support the allegations of wrongdoings that Andrew Pearse, the government’s star witness, made against the VTB banker during his testimony earlier in the trial. Had there been any indication of potential wrongdoing, Leemhuis said, “It would have been illegal for VTB to [extend the loans.]”
U.S. v. Boustani is just the latest example of the United States government’s attempt to extend its influence to regions of the world where it is questionable whether it has jurisdiction.
VTB Bank offered loans to support the development of Mozambique’s naval forces and maritime infrastructure. It received guarantees from the government of Mozambique and it believed that Mozambique would repay its loans in full. But according to Leemhuis, U.S. government prosecutors suggested that she frame VTB’s interests in the loans as that of an “investor,” not a lender.
This, it stands to reason, might support prosecutors’ claims that investors were harmed by the alleged scheme. But such is not the case. VTB was a lender, and as it happens, is not only a foreign lender, but also has been sanctioned by the U.S. government.
Furthermore, U.S. prosecutors implied that the goods and services contracted by Boustani’s employer, Privinvest, were never provided. But that is not true. According to Leemhuis, VTB representatives reported in March 2015 following a due diligence trip to Mozambique that positive progress was being made with respect to the goods and services supported by VTB’s loans. They were, in fact, delivered.