Frederic Bourke, a Connecticut businessman who was convicted at a U.S. trial of bribery overseas, wants to reopen his case for his lawyers to question a prosecutor about whether he let a key government witness give false testimony.
Bourke, the co-founder of handbag maker Dooney & Bourke, was convicted in 2009 of conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a U.S. anti-bribery law, by joining in a scheme to pay bribes in a decade-old oil deal in Azerbaijan.
Bourke returned with his lawyers yesterday to Manhattan federal court to ask the judge to order a hearing in the case. According to Bourke, prosecutors may have been aware that a key government witness, Hans Bodmer, testified falsely when he said he told Bourke about the bribery scheme.
Bourke’s lawyer, Michael Tigar, told U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin that he wants to question one of the prosecutors on whether he knew beforehand that Bodmer would give false testimony. “We expect to hear from him,” Tigar said.
The request is the latest twist in a case that began when Bourke joined a group of U.S. investors in 1998 to acquire the state-run oil company in Azerbaijan. The venture was led by Czech expatriate Viktor Kozeny.
After the deal collapsed, Kozeny told prosecutors that he paid bribes to Azeri leaders and that his investors knew it. After prosecutors opened a case, Bodmer, a Swiss lawyer who helped Kozeny organize the bribery scheme, pleaded guilty in the U.S. and agreed to cooperate with the government.
Bodmer testified against Bourke at the trial, saying he told Bourke about the scheme while outside an Azerbaijan hotel. During the defense case, Bourke presented flight records showing he wasn’t in Azerbaijan at the time. Prosecutors later said that Bodmer made an innocent mistake about a long-ago date, though they stand by Bodmer’s claim that he told Bourke about bribes.
Now, Bourke’s lawyers say there’s evidence indicating that prosecutors knew before Bodmer testified that his testimony would be wrong. The evidence is a remark that another prosecutor made in court earlier this year. The comment suggests that prosecutors knew Bodmer’s account would be false, they say.
“It is the prosecutor’s duty not to present false evidence, Tigar said in court.
Scheindlin didn’t say whether she would order a hearing. Assistant U.S. Attorney Harry Chernoff told her that Bodmer, while mistaken about the date of the meeting with Bourke, didn’t intentionally lie at the trial and that prosecutors weren’t aware beforehand that he had the wrong date.
“We absolutely didn’t know,” he said.
Jurors, Chernoff added, were told at the trial that Bodmer may have erred about the date in his testimony. “This entire matter was aired very clearly before the jury,” he said.
The hearing included a back-and-forth between Chernoff and Scheindlin on whether prosecutors have a duty to correct errors in the anticipated testimony of witnesses. Chernoff said it’s wrong “to coach” witnesses beforehand. Scheindlin questioned whether the government may knowingly present false testimony.
Separately, Bodmer last week resigned from the board of Hyposwiss Private Bank Ltd. amid allegations in a Swiss lawsuit that he orchestrated a new money-laundering scheme. Bourke’s lawyers yesterday pointed to these new claims, which Bodmer denies.
Kozeny, who was charged by U.S. prosecutors in the bribery case, is fighting extradition from the Bahamas to the U.S. The U.K.-based Privy Council, the final appeals court for some Commonwealth nations, will hear arguments on Nov. 23 over the U.S. request to extradite him.
The Bourke case is U.S. v. Bourke, 05-cr-00518, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).