Boustani Trial in New York Moves from Confusion to Doubt

Brooklyn federal court is the location of an important case that will test the limits of U.S. law. Jean Boustani, a boat salesman from Lebanon, is accused of conspiracy and fraud tied to a $2 billion transaction in Mozambique. So far, key witnesses in the case have created confusion and then had their credibility undercut during cross examination that must be leaving the jurors scratching their heads.

Surjan Singh, a key prosecution witness in the trial, has suffered bouts of memory loss that strain credulity. On cross-examination, Singh, a former Credit Suisse banker who has pleaded guilty to a count of conspiracy, had a difficult time keeping his stories straight. For the record, Singh said, “I don’t recall” more than two dozen times while on the witness stand.

For starters, Singh offered dueling tales about who gave him $1 million, something most people wouldn’t forget.  His testimony also contained inconsistencies.

Before the trial, Singh apparently volunteered to the government that Andrew Pearse, a fellow ex-Credit Suisse banker who also pleaded guilty, was a source of ill-gotten gains. Indeed, bank transfer records told a similar story. Yet as a witness, Singh laid the blame on Boustani.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to call Singh and his memory sketchy. For example, Singh had a difficult time remembering just how accurate the testimony he had previously shared with Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) actually was.

Singh couldn’t remember if he had to correct his FCA testimony because he had “left certain things out.” As for the truthfulness of that testimony, Singh acknowledged that he may have left parts of the truth on the cutting room floor. “My testimony to the FCA was accurate to the questions that they asked me,” he said.

Then again, Singh acknowledged in court that he had “omitted from investors the fact that [he] had received kickbacks…I was aware at the time that I was receiving kickbacks that were undisclosed.”

As a witness, Singh also had a hard time remembering the details of his own personal relationships. Although Singh acknowledged his previously close relationship with Pearse – Pearse referred to Singh as “uncle” – Singh had first claimed not to remember that he was named as an executor in Pearse’s will.

As for Singh’s interactions with Boustani, those too were at times a bit light. After telling the court that Boustani had referred to him as a brother, the next day Singh testified that his contact with Boustani was largely limited to a single hug and a few handshakes.

Another indication of a weakened case: The government’s third “star” witness in the conspiracy case, ex-Credit Suisse Detelina Subeva, is not even scheduled to go on the stand.

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