Swiss Lawyer Sentenced to Time Served in Bribery Case

A Swiss lawyer who was the U.S. government’s star witness in a bribery case over an oil deal in Azerbaijan, was sentenced to time already served in prison and ordered to pay a $500,000 fine for his role in the scheme.

Hans Bodmer, sentenced yesterday in Manhattan federal court a decade after his arrest in the international bribery scheme, was also ordered to forfeit $131,906. At a 2009 trial against Frederic Bourke, co-founder of handbag maker Dooney & Bourke Inc., Bodmer said he helped a Czech expatriate, Viktor Kozeny, orchestrate a plot in Azerbaijan in which Bourke invested.

“I made a bad decision 15 years ago,” Bodmer, who pleaded guilty in 2004 to conspiracy to commit money laundering, told U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin. “I have not run away. I have accepted the consequences.”

Bourke was convicted of conspiring to join a scheme to bribe leaders in Azerbaijan in a 1998 oil deal. The U.S. Justice Department points to the case as one of its top victories under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The anti-bribery law allows the government to prosecute companies and individuals doing business in the U.S. for corruption that takes place in other countries.

Bourke has yet to serve his one-year prison sentence. He has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review his conviction, which a federal appeals court upheld in 2011.

Bodmer was arrested in 2003 in South Korea. He spent five months in prison there before returning to the U.S., pleading guilty and agreeing to cooperate.

Azeri Oil

At Bourke’s trial, Bodmer testified that he helped Kozeny, promoter of an ultimately unsuccessful deal to take control of the Azeri national oil company, create secret Swiss accounts and offshore companies that would pay Azerbaijan’s leaders. He said he told Bourke about the plot in a conversation on the morning of Feb. 6, 1998.

Bourke presented proof that he wasn’t in Azerbaijan at the time, and he has since argued that Bodmer lied on the witness stand. Prosecutors said Bodmer was mistaken about the date.

After agreeing to cooperate, Bodmer was allowed to return to Switzerland, where he practices law. In 2011, he was reappointed to the board of Hyposwiss Private Bank Zurich, a wealth manager. He left the company later that year.

Prosecutors said in a letter to the judge that Bodmer provided “superb, meticulous and extraordinary” cooperation and that his help was “critical” in convicting Bourke, the judge said. In court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Harry Chernoff praised Bodmer for his “candor.”

‘Dark Shadow’

Scheindlin said it may be difficult to compel Bodmer, a Swiss citizen, to pay his fine, and she appealed to his “conscience” to make the payment.

“Had this scheme succeeded, American investors would have received a hundred-fold return,” she said.

Defense attorney Saul Pilchen said Bodmer’s conduct was lawful in Switzerland and that he has since adopted enhanced compliance procedures at his law firm, BodmerFischer AG. About two dozen of Bodmer’s friends and family from Switzerland were supporting him from the courtroom gallery.

“For me and my family, the case has been a dark shadow over our lives,” Bodmer told the judge.

Another U.S. witness, former Kozeny employee Thomas Farrell, is scheduled to be sentenced next month.

Kozeny, who was also charged in the case, has successfully fought extradition from the Bahamas, where he lives. He made his fortune in the Czech Republic in the early 1990s.

“The biggest disappointment in this case, I think it’s safe to say, is that Mr. Kozeny was not brought to appear before this court,” Scheindlin said.

The cases are U.S. v. Bourke, 11-cr-05390, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Manhattan), and U.S. v. Bodmer, 03-cr-00947, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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