Bodmer, U.S. Witness in Azeri Bribery Case, Faces New Laundering Claims
A Swiss lawyer who was the U.S. government’s star witness in the 2009 bribery trial of American businessman Frederic Bourke faces new allegations that he orchestrated a $1 billion money-laundering scheme.
The lawyer, Hans Bodmer, pleaded guilty to money laundering and testified for U.S. prosecutors at Bourke’s trial for paying bribes in an oil deal in Azerbaijan. Bodmer said he told Bourke, an investor in the 1998 deal, about the bribery plot he helped organize. Bourke was convicted. Bodmer returned to his Zurich law practice.
A New York judge on Nov. 10 will hear arguments on Bourke’s claim that Bodmer lied at the trial. Meanwhile, Bodmer is facing new laundering allegations. In August, Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska filed a legal complaint in Switzerland accusing him and others of masterminding a scheme last year to loot OJSC MMC Norilsk Nickel (GMKN), a nickel producer in which Deripaska invests.
“Under the pivotal involvement of Hans Bodmer, a complex structure was created” to siphon funds out of Norilsk Nickel, according to a copy of Deripaska’s complaint. “The accused parties extracted the assets of Norilsk Nickel unlawfully and to their own advantage, an amount of approximately $1 billion.”
Bourke’s lawyer, Michael Tigar, declined to say whether he would cite the new allegations in his bid to win a retrial for his client. As he challenges his conviction in an appeals court, Bourke has also returned to the trial judge to claim that prosecutors knew Bodmer lied in his testimony. Prosecutors say there’s no evidence Bodmer lied when he tied Bourke to the bribery scheme.
Bodmer’s lawyer, Saul Pilchen, didn’t have an immediate comment on the Swiss case. Jerika Richardson, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in New York, declined to comment.
Bodmer has yet to be sentenced in the bribery case because he may be asked to testify against the scheme’s accused ringleader, Viktor Kozeny. Bodmer this year was reappointed to the board of Hyposwiss Private Bank Zurich, a Zurich-based wealth manager.
At the 2009 bribery trial, Bodmer was one of two prosecution witnesses to testify that they told Bourke, a member of Kozeny’s investor group, about bribes to Azeri government leaders. Bodmer said he set up Swiss accounts and offshore companies to route illegal payments from Kozeny.
Bourke, the co-founder of handbag maker Dooney & Bourke, was convicted of conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a U.S. anti-bribery law, and sentenced to a year in prison. Kozeny 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 in the Kozeny extradition request on Nov. 23.
The new allegations against Bodmer came in an August complaint to Swiss prosecutors by Deripaska and a unit of United Co. Rusal, the world’s largest aluminum producer. Deripaska is the majority shareholder of Rusal, according to the complaint.
The complaint claims that Bodmer helped Vladimir Potanin and his Interros Holding Co. loot Norilsk Nickel, the largest producer of the metal, using “a remarkably large number of offshore companies” that Bodmer set up. Rusal, which holds 25 percent of Norilsk, and Interros, which holds about 30 percent, are fighting over control.
Swiss prosecutors last month declined to open a criminal case, according to a person familiar with the complaint who wouldn’t comment publicly on government actions. Deripaska later brought the complaint to Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority, which has yet to take action, the person said.
Representatives of Interros and Norilsk Nickel, both based in Moscow, weren’t available for comment after business hours.
The Bourke case is U.S. v. Bourke, 05-cr-00518, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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