Viktor Kozeny, the Czech-born businessman wanted in the U.S. where he’s accused of orchestrating a massive bribery scheme, won’t be extradited to New York from the Bahamas, the U.K.-based Privy Council ruled.
The Privy Council, the final court of appeal for some British Commonwealth countries, today affirmed a 2010 ruling by a Bahamas court refusing extradition. Kozeny, dubbed “the Pirate of Prague” in media reports, has been sought by U.S. prosecutors since 2005. He also faces unrelated fraud charges in the Czech Republic.
“We have prevailed on all points,” Kozeny, 48, said today in an interview from the Bahamas, which he hasn’t left since 1999.
The unanimous ruling by the five-judge council probably eliminates any chance that Kozeny will be returned to the U.S., where he faces federal charges for organizing a 1998 scheme to bribe government officials in Azerbaijan in return for rights to buy Socar, the state oil company.
Federal prosecutors in New York said he paid millions of dollars and promised billions more to spur the sale. A U.S. businessman, Frederic Bourke, is fighting his 2009 conviction on charges that he conspired with Kozeny. Socar was never sold.
Carly Sullivan, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in New York, declined to comment on the ruling.
The Privy Council said in a 22-page decision that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the case. It said Kozeny may not be extradited for bribery crimes that “would not constitute offenses against the law of the Bahamas if they took place within the Bahamas.”
The panel didn’t rule on the merits of the U.S. bribery case. The appeal of the prior extradition ruling was pursued by Bahamas prosecutors and supported by U.S. authorities.
Kozeny says the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which outlaws bribes to non-U.S. officials for business, didn’t cover him. U.S. prosecutors say the law applies to Kozeny, who brought American investors into the deal.
After the charges were unsealed in 2005, Kozeny spent 19 months in a Bahamas prison before being released to his family’s seaside estate, from where he’s fought extradition.
Benjamin Brafman, a New York lawyer who represents Kozeny in the U.S., said he doubted Kozeny would ever face charges in New York “unless he decides to come back.” The U.S. case is pending.
Feeling ‘Truly Vindicated’
Kozeny today expressed gratitude toward his lawyers and said he “felt truly vindicated” by the ruling. “They said it’s not a crime in the Bahamas,” he said. “They said it’s not a violation of the code over here.”
Kozeny, who may still face arrest if he leaves the Bahamas, said he will leave it to his lawyers to seek resolution of the charges. “At the most,” he said, the case should be settled with a “$10,000 civil violation.”
“This is obviously not a transaction that I would think about coming close to or repeating,” he said. Still, “it’s not much different from what happens all over the world.”
“It’s very painful to be accused that you crossed the line when you didn’t,” he added.
New York State prosecutors separately have accused Kozeny of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from his U.S. investors in the Azerbaijan deal. Czech prosecutors have presented evidence to a court trying Kozeny in absentia on charges of embezzling $1.1 billion from mutual funds he established in the Czech Republic in the early 1990s.
A U.S. federal appeals court in December upheld Bourke’s conspiracy conviction. He has asked the Court of Appeals in Manhattan to reconsider and remains free pending the outcome.
The U.S. case is U.S. v. Kozeny, 05-cr-00518, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan). The U.K. case is Superintendent of Her Majesty’s Foxhill Prison and the Government of the U.S. v. Kozeny, No. 73 of 2010.