Prosecutors in the U.S. v. Boustani case now in its second week in the Eastern District of New York introduced a new witness on Tuesday in their case against Jean Boustani, a Lebanese executive who was involved in the sale of ships to the African nation of Mozambique. Eager to show some American connection to this foreign transaction that has few if any links to the United States, the government called Aneesh Partap, a financial advisor with the Los Angeles-based ICE Canyon, LLC. Ice Canyon made a $15 million investment in the $2 billion Mozambican deal, according to the testimony. Rather than clarify matters, though, Partap’s testimony presented more questions than answers, a troubling result for the government’s case.
ICE Canyon, according to its website, creates value by “exploiting market inefficiencies, mispriced risks, and asymmetrical total return profiles.” In other words, it invests in risky international ventures. Other countries in which ICE Canyon has invested in sovereign debt deals include North Korea, Venezuela and Russia. Partap’s job at ICE Canyon was to evaluate the level of risk in the Mozambican deal.
In response to cross-examination, Partap told the court that he had never met the defendant, Boustani. Instead, his frustrations with the Mozambique deal seemed focused on Credit Suisse, the Swiss bank that was one of the major lenders in the deal. The ICE Canyon analyst complained about an apparent lack of transparency in a series of emails to Credit Suisse, which the Swiss bank reportedly acknowledged but never responded to.
Nonetheless, Partap recommended to his boss, a co-founder at ICE Canyon, that they invest in the Mozambique debt.
According to defense counsel Randall Jackson, the deal’s memorandum of offer specifically warned of risks of corruption in emerging markets such as Mozambique, including political instability and rent-seeking by government officials. Notwithstanding this, a researcher with access to Google could quickly discern that business watchdogs found that “companies looking to operate in Mozambique face a very high risk of corruption in the public sector … [and] corruption is particularly prominent in public procurement.”
It is possible that Partap, ICE Canyon’s due diligence man on the Mozambique investment, was not overly concerned with these risks because the sovereign guarantee of Mozambique seemed solid. Nor was he concerned about Boustani’s employer, the well-regarded global shipbuilder Privinvest, which he said he didn’t even need to visit to know that it was a reliable manufacturer and business partner.
But the government did not call ICE Canyon into the Boustani case because of its reputation for rigorous due diligence or discernment of sound places to invest, but rather because, quite simply, the company is American. One of the prosecution’s biggest hurdles is to prove that the case has a nexus with the U.S. ICE Canyon’s office in Los Angeles, where Partap worked, was as close as they could come to making that case – which wasn’t very close. After all, he was an analyst of the case and not the actual investor. During his pretrial preparations with prosecutors, Partap told the court, the government stressed the theme that he was in the United States when the investment decision was made.
For jurors, ripped from their lives to hear arguments about a foreign deal, involving foreign banks and faraway buyers and sellers, Tuesday’s testimony must have been a little mystifying. But the introduction of ICE Canyon to the case did little to strengthen the government’s charge that Americans were somehow injured or victimized by a sale of ships in Mozambique.