The DOJ recently filed its reply brief (here) in Frederic Bourke’s appeal.
A prior post (here) summarized the FCPA related issues in Bourke’s brief and this post summarizes the DOJ’s reply brief.
The DOJ begins with this paragraph:
“The evidence at trial established that Bourke, a successful entrepreneur and multi-millionaire, knowingly backed rogue investor Viktor Kozeny in a corrupt plan to purchase the state-owned Azerbaijani oil industry, in secret partnership with the president of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev, and his family. The corrupt plan included the payment of bribes to Aliyev and other officials.”
The DOJ states – “[a]t some point, Bourke learned about Kozeny’s business success and strategies from a December 1996 Fortune magazine article.” The brief states that the article “detailed Kozeny’s insider trading, purchase of state secrets from a government official, and other fraudulent activity.” According to the DOJ, “[h]aving read the article and discussed it with his lawyers, Bourke was aware of Kozeny’s questionable business practices; but Bourke was impressed by the outsized profits Kozeny generated in this scheme, and, as Bourke would later tell a prospective investor, Kozeny had not actually been convicted of a crime.”
Bourke’s trial principally focused on his investments in Oily Rock, a vehicle the government maintains was used to funnel bribe payments to Azerbaijan officials to ensure that the officials would privatize the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) in a rigged auction that only the investors, including Bourke, Kozeny and others could win.
The DOJ states that “Bourke made his initial investment in Oily Rock without directing any of his many lawyers to conduct due diligence.”
According to the DOJ:
“Bourke’s interest in the investment was motivated by his knowledge of the corrupt arrangement. Because Bourke knew of the payments to Azerbaijani officials, Bourke demonstrated an assured confidence in the success of the privatization, even though most of the investors who were not privy to the details of the conspiracy viewed it as extremely risky. The inherent risk in the investment arose from the fact that the privatization of SOCAR required a presidential decree.”
The DOJ nevertheless acknowledges that many others invested, directly or indirectly, in Oily Rock including former U.S. Senator George Mitchell and other individuals, institutional investors and hedge funds, AIG and Columbia University.
Bourke’s appellate brief argued that the district court “committed a series of errors that crippled Bourke’s mens rea defense.”
Below is a summary of Bourke’s arguments along with the DOJ’s response as set forth in its reply brief.
“The district court improperly instructed on conscious avoidance, despite the absence of evidence that Bourke deliberately avoided knowledge of Kozeny’s bribes.” According to Bourke, this instruction was error “because there was no evidence that Bourke deliberately avoided learning about Kozeny’s bribery.” Bourke states that the conscious avoidance instruction “was particularly damaging because the government presented evidence and argued that Bourke failed to exercise adequate due diligence, thus exacerbating the risk inherent in the conscious avoidance instruction that the jury would convict for negligence or recklessness.
“There was an ample factual basis for a conscious avoidance charge in this case. To be sure, the Government’s principal theory at trial was that Bourke had actual knowledge of the bribery scheme. But the jury easily could have found, in the alternative, that Bourke was aware of a high probability of the existence of corrupt arrangements, yet deliberately avoided confirming that fact. Such a finding would have been supported, by, among other things, the following evidence:
• Bourke was aware of the high level of corruption in Azerbaijan generally.
• Bourke had read a Fortune magazine article that described Kozeny’s reliance on illegal business practices, such as insider trading, purchase of state secrets from a government official, and fraud, to accomplish the goals of a privatization scheme. This article alerted Bourke that there was a high probability that Kozeny’s latest scheme involving Azerbaijan also included corrupt arrangements, such as bribe payments or offers to pay bribes.
• Bourke defended Kozeny by stating that he had not actually been convicted of a crime.
• Bourke expressed concern to other investors and their attorneys that Kozeny and his employees were paying bribes.
• Bourke proposed the formation of separate companies affiliated with Oily Rock and Minaret to shield Bourke and other American investors from liability from any corrupt payments.
• Bourke played a role in coordinating United States medical treatments, combined with tourism and shopping excursions, for Azerbaijani officials.
From these facts, among others, a rational juror could have concluded that Bourke was aware of a high probability of the existence of corrupt arrangements, yet deliberately avoided confirming that fact. Accordingly, Bourke is wrong when he suggests that a conscious avoidance was inappropriate because ‘the trial record contains no evidence that Bourke ‘decided not to learn’ about Kozeny’s bribery.’ In fact, a conscious avoidance instruction was particularly appropriate in this case, because Bourke’s corporate attorney had actually cautioned him that, if he thought there might be bribes paid, he could not just look the other way.”
“Bourke’s assertion that the conscious avoidance instruction allowed the jury to convict on a negligence theory is mistaken. To the contrary, the District Court told the jury that it could not find Bourke guilty merely because he was negligent. The Government did not argue that the jury should convict because Bourke was negligent in failing to ask his lawyers to conduct due diligence. Rather, the Government argued that Bourke refrained from asking his lawyers to conduct due diligence either because he was consciously avoiding learning about the bribes or because he did not want his lawyers to learn the true facts of his corrupt investment.”
“In sum, a rational juror could have concluded based on, among other things, Bourke’s close relationship to Kozeny and other co-conspirators, Bourke’s understanding of the Azerbaijan investment and the Azerbaijani government, and Bourke’s previously expressed concerns about Kozeny’s paying of bribes, that Bourke was aware of a high probability that Kozeny was paying bribes but deliberately avoided confirming that fact. Accordingly, the District Court properly instructed the jury on the doctrine of conscious avoidance.”
“Even if the District Court erred in instructing the jury on the doctrine of conscious avoidance (and it did not), the error would provide no basis for vacating Bourke’s conviction. This Court has repeatedly ruled that a conscious avoidance instruction is harmless in cases where, as here, there was sufficient evidence of the defendant’s actual knowledge to support the jury’s verdict.”
“Moreover, conscious avoidance was not a prominent feature of the Government’s arguments to the jury. Although the Government did refer to evidence of Bourke’s conscious avoidance, the Government’s primary argument was that Bourke had actual knowledge of the bribes.”
The district court erred in admitting testimony about the due diligence performed by Texas Pacific Group (“TPG”), an investment fund that did not make the same investment as Bourke, because its lawyers advised of the FCPA risk.
According to Bourke, because he knew nothing about their work, their testimony was irrelevant to his state of mind particularly since the results were never shared or communicated with him.
Bourke states that “the government offered the testimony […] solely as a contrast with the comparatively skimpy inquiry that Bourke and his lawyers performed” and that this testimony “increased the risk, created by the conscious avoidance instruction and heightened by the government’s closing, that the jury would convict Bourke based on his negligence or recklessness — what he should have known, rather than what he actually knew.”
Bourke further argues that having admitted the TPG testimony, “the district court should at least have permitted Bourke to present the contrasting testimony” of the head of investments for Columbia University that would have established that “Columbia invested $15 million with Kozeny in Azeri privatization after due diligence comparable to Bourke’s.”
According to Bourke, this excluded testimony “would have rebutted the government’s claim that his lack of due diligence compared to TPG established his culpability.”
Bourke argues that “once the district court permitted the government to present TPG’s due diligence as a benchmark for measuring [his] inquiry, fairness demanded that [he] be allowed to present the contrasting picture of Columbia’s due diligence, which resembled his own.”
“The testimony of Wheeler and Rossman [individuals who conducted due diligence for potential Oily Rock investor David Bonderman of TPG] was not offered to show Bourke was negligent; the purpose was to show that Kozeny had not concealed evidence of the corrupt arrangements from potential investors in Oily Rock. Given that Bourke was much closer to Kozeny than Bonderman was, this was important circumstantial evidence of Bourke’s knowledge. As such, the testimony was relevant and appropriately admitted by the District Court.”
“To conduct due diligence on the Oily Rock investment, at Kozeny’s invitation, Wheeler traveled to Baku with Bourke and several other potential investors; together, they toured Kozeny’s operations and were introduced to Azerbaijani government officials. Based on what she saw during her visit and her assessment that the investment was “risky [in] nature”, Wheeler and Bonderman brought in TPG’s outside counsel, Cleary Gottlieb, to perform due diligence. Rossman testified that, in 1998, he was a Cleary Gottlieb attorney. During that time, he was asked to conduct due diligence on the Oily Rock investment for TPG. As a part of due diligence, Rossman met with Bodmer at Bodmer’s law offices. During this meeting, Bodmer provided Rossman with various documents related to the Oily Rock investment, and Bodmer and Rossman discussed various details regarding the investment, including the involvement of Azerbaijani investors. Based on his review of documents, his understanding of the investment thesis, and Kozeny’s reputation, which he researched from news coverage, Rossman concluded that this proposed investment could violate the FCPA, and he advised his client not to make the investment. TPG did not invest in Oily Rock.”
“… Wheeler and Rossman’s testimony was appropriately admitted, because Bourke was exposed at minimum to the same sources of information as Wheeler and Rossman — Wheeler and Bourke took the same factfinding trip to Baku in January 1998, and Rossman, like Bourke, learned of the investment structure from Bodmer. Accordingly, this testimony was probative of Bourke’s knowledge.”
“… the District Court’s decision to admit Wheeler and Rossman’s testimony was entirely appropriate. Moreover, given the volume of direct and circumstantial evidence of Bourke’s knowledge of the conspiracy’s objectives, any conceivable error was harmless.”
“Bourke also contends that the District Court erred in barring the testimony of Bruce Dresner, who served as Columbia University’s Vice President for Investments in 1998, and, in that capacity, based on representations by Omega’s Clayton Lewis and Leon Cooperman, recommended that Columbia invest $15 million in privatization vouchers through Omega. Bourke complains that, although the Government was permitted to call Wheeler and Rossman to contrast their due diligence with Bourke’s, he was not permitted to contrast his due diligence with Columbia’s. The comparison is inapt. Unlike Wheeler and Rossman, who testified about a potential investment in Oily Rock itself, Columbia University was a potential investor in Omega, which was merely planning to invest alongside Oily Rock. The District Court did not abuse its discretion in excluding this proposed testimony.”
“The District Court properly precluded Dresner’s testimony because it was not relevant. As the District Court stated, Dresner’s state of mind “has nothing to do with the defendant on trial.” Unlike other defense witnesses and Government witnesses who were present in Baku with Bourke to consider an investment in Oily Rock and therefore possessed relevant information regarding Bourke’s knowledge, Dresner had no contact with Bourke and was considering investing in Omega, not Oily Rock. Dresner never traveled to Azerbaijan to investigate the investment opportunity, relying instead on the recommendation of Omega. Dresner never met Kozeny, Farrell, or Bodmer — the individuals who discussed the FCPA violations with Bourke.”
“In addition, Dresner’s testimony would not have been particularly helpful to Bourke, and therefore any error in excluding the testimony would have been harmless. Notwithstanding Dresner’s exclusion, Bourke offered evidence through several Government and defense witnesses that Columbia University had invested in the same project, and there was no suggestion in any of that testimony or in arguments that Columbia University was aware of bribes or was prosecuted. Thus, Bourke was able to establish that some investors in the Azerbaijani vouchers were not aware of the bribes. Had Dresner actually testified, he would have revealed that Columbia and Bourke were not similarly situated and that Columbia had much less information about the investment than Bourke did.”
“In sum, the District Court acted within its discretion in excluding Dresner’s testimony, and this ruling does not warrant a new trial.”
The district court “refused to instruct that conviction for conspiracy requires the same mens rea as the underlying FCPA offense — meaning (among other things) a bad purpose to disobey or disregard the law.”
According to Bourke, “the district court compounded its error in giving the conscious avoidance instruction by rejecting [his] requested instruction [as to the conspiracy charge] that the government had to prove that he acted corruptly and willfully.”
Bourke argued that “when the district court turned to the mens rea required for the conspiracy offense, rather than for a substantive FCPA offense, it omitted the requirement that the defendant act corruptly” and that this “watering-down of the mens rea requirement for the conspiracy charged […] undermined [his] defense, which rested on his state of mind.”
“Bourke did not lodge this objection in this District Court, and therefore, this part of the charge is reviewed for plain error. The District Court’s mens rea instruction was correct and was certainly not plainly erroneous.”
“The District Court instructed the jury on all the elements of a substantive FCPA violation, including the requirement that the defendant act “willfully” and “corruptly,” terms which the Court defined for the jury.”
“The District Court’s charge encompassed the mens rea elements of the FCPA and was not plainly erroneous. The “word ‘corruptly’ in the FCPA signifies . . . a bad or wrongful purpose and an intent to influence a foreign official to misuse his official position. But there is nothing in the word or any thing else in the FCPA that indicates that the government must establish that the defendant in fact knew that his or her conduct violated the FCPA to be guilty.”
“The District Court’s extensive instructions on mens rea included the instruction that Bourke had to act “with the specific intention of furthering [the conspiracy’s] business or objective” and “for the purpose of furthering the illegal undertaking.” It is simply not possible to conspire to act corruptly without acting corruptly.”
“Finally, Bourke failed to raise this highly abstract objection during any of the several conferences on the jury charge.”
“Accordingly, the charge is subject to review only for plain error. There was no error, much less plain error, in this case.”
The district court “rejected Bourke’s proposed good faith instructions, even though [he] produced ample evidence to warrant the instructions and no other instruction covered the point.”
Bourke argued that his proposed instruction “accurately reflected the principle that a defendant’s good faith belief that he acted lawfully negates the mens rea for specific intent offenses.”
While Bourke concedes that his efforts to investigate the investment “were not as extensive” as others, his efforts “suffice for a good faith instruction.” Because the case turned on his state of mind, Bourke states that “there is no doubt that the good faith defense, if accepted by the jury, would have produced an acquittal.”
“Bourke’s contention is without merit. A separate good faith instruction was not necessary in this case, as the relevant jury instructions effectively communicated the essence of a good faith defense in its discussion of the elements of knowledge and willfulness.”
“Indeed, the District Court’s instructions that an FCPA violation required a defendant to act “with a bad purpose to disobey or disregard the law” and that the Government could not meet its burden of proof by showing that the defendant’s actions were the result of “mere negligence or some other innocent explanation” captured the concepts identified in Bourke’s proposed charge — that Bourke could not be convicted of Count One if he believed he “was acting properly in connection with the matters alleged in [Count One], even if he was mistaken in that belief, and even if others were injured by his conduct.” […] Thus, the good faith instructions Bourke requested were “effectively presented elsewhere in the charge.” Accordingly, the District Court’s decision not to deliver a separate good faith charge was appropriate and does not provide a basis for a new trial.”
“Any one of the errors concerning [his] knowledge of Kozeny’s bribes and his specific criminal intent, standing alone, warrants reversal” and if any one error is harmless in isolation, then their “cumulative effect profoundly damaged [his] defense.”
“Bourke contends correctly that the cumulative effect of errors that are individually harmless can cast doubt upon the fairness of a conviction. For the reasons set forth above, there were no such errors. Accordingly, Bourke’s “cumulative effect” argument provides no basis for granting a new trial.”