Former Guinean Minister of Mines Convicted of Receiving and Laundering $8.5 Million in Bribes from China International Fund and China Sonangol
NEW YORK -- A former Minister of Mines and Geology of the Republic of Guinea, has been convicted by a federal jury for his role in a scheme to launder bribes paid to him by executives of China Sonangol International Ltd. (China Sonangol) and China International Fund, SA (CIF). The jury reached its verdict yesterday after five hours of deliberations, following a seven-day trial.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim for the Southern District of New York, Assistant Director Stephen Richardson of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division and Assistant Director in Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. of the FBI’s New York Field Office announced the conviction.
Mahmoud Thiam, 50, of New York, was convicted of one count of transacting in criminally derived property and one count of money laundering. According to the charges, the funds that were laundered were proceeds derived through violations of Guinean bribery laws.
“As a high-level Minister in Guinea, Thiam sold out his country and then used U.S. banks and real estate to hide millions in bribes paid to him by a Chinese conglomerate,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Blanco. “Corruption is a global disease that undermines the rule of law everywhere. The Justice Department is committed to investigating and prosecuting those who commit these crimes and use the U.S. financial system and free marketplace to conceal and benefit from their crimes.”
“As a New York federal jury has now found, Thiam abused his official government position to enrich himself at the expense of one of Africa’s poorest countries,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Kim. “Thiam laundered the proceeds of his bribery scheme into the United States to fund his lavish lifestyle, buying a multi-million dollar estate in Dutchess County, and paying for private schools for his children. Thanks to the work of the FBI, Thiam’s scheme was exposed and he was swiftly convicted.”
“This conviction showcases the FBI’s commitment to combatting corruption domestically and abroad,” said Assistant Director Stephen Richardson. “Thiam’s misuse of his official position for personal gain violated federal law and the trust of the Guinean people. I applaud the excellent work that our employees put into this case and thank all of our partners who helped bring Thiam to justice.”
“The conviction of Thiam demonstrates that no one who violates public office is above the law when they are involved in corruption,” said Assistant Director in Charge Sweeney. “The FBI’s International Corruption Squads were established to take on foreign corruption cases like this that use money laundering and lies to deceive the trust in public office.”
According to evidence presented at trial, China Sonangol, CIF and their subsidiaries signed a series of agreements with Guinea that gave them lucrative mining rights in Guinea, and Thiam influenced the Guinean government’s decision to enter into those agreements while serving as Guinea’s Minister of Mines and Geology from 2009 to 2010.
The evidence showed that Thiam participated in a scheme to launder money from 2009 to 2011, during which time China Sonangol and CIF paid him $8,500,000 to a bank account in Hong Kong. Thiam then transferred approximately $3,900,000 to the United States through bank accounts and other means, and used the money to pay for luxury goods and other expenses, according to trial evidence. To conceal the bribe payments, Thiam falsely claimed to banks in Hong Kong and the United States that he was employed as a consultant and that the money was income from the sale of land which he earned before he was a minister, according to the evidence.
The purpose of the bribes, according to the evidence presented at trial, was to obtain substantial rights and interests in natural resources in Guinea, including the right to be the first and strategic shareholder with Guinea of a national mining company into which Guinea had to, among other things, transfer all of its stakes in various mining projects and future mining permits or concessions that the government decided to develop on its own. China Sonangol and CIF, through their subsidiaries, also obtained exclusive and valuable rights to conduct business operations in a broad range of sectors of the Guinean economy, including mining, according to the trial evidence.
Thiam was detained pending trial and is still in the custody of the U.S. Marshals. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 11, 2017.
Trial Attorney Lorinda Laryea of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Elisha Kobre and Christopher DiMase of the Southern District of New York are prosecuting the case. Fraud Section Assistant Chief Tarek Helou, Senior Trial Attorney Jason Linder, Trial Attorney Sarah Edwards, and Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section Senior Trial Attorney Stephen Parker and Trial Attorney Alexis Loeb previously investigated the case. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs also provided substantial assistance in this matter. The department is grateful to the government of Guinea for providing substantial assistance in gathering evidence during this investigation. The department also thanks Israel and Switzerland for their assistance in the department’s investigation.
The FBI’s International Corruption Squads in New York City and Los Angeles are investigating the case. In 2015, the FBI formed International Corruption Squads across the country to address national and international implications of foreign corruption.