Reconnu coupable de blanchiment d’argent et de corruption en mai dernier par le jury, Mahmoud Thiam, ancien ministre des mines et de la géologie de Guinée, a été condamné, le 25 août 2017, à sept ans de prison ferme à New York, par l’Honorable Denise Cote, Juge fédérale pour le Southern District de New York. Avant la proclamation de la sentence, l’avocat de Mahmoud Thiam a cherché à adoucir la frappe du glaive de la Justice contre son client. Dans un plaidoyer désespéré, il a fait ainsi une invocation indirecte, implicite, inappropriée, illégitime et imméritée du Camp Boiro. Je traduis et commente ici certains passages de la dépêche de l’Associated Press, qui a été largement reprise par les journaux et les sites web.
D’entrée de jeu la juge Denise Cote déclare que le citoyen américain, Mahmoud Thiam, a trahi la République de Guinée en acceptant des pots-de-vin d’un montant 8.5 million dollars US. Il s’agit d’un constat matériel et d’une opinion irréfutable. A n’importe quel niveau de la hiérarchie administrative et gouvernementale, le fonctionnaire et le ministre sont censés servir les populations, et non pas s’en servir. Ils en sont les serviteurs et non pas les maîtres. En compromettant —peut-être irrémédiablement — le potentiel humain, social, culturel et économique (rural et industriel) de la Guinée, les régimes successifs du pays ont créé le cadre toxique dont Mahmoud Thiam est devenu un symbole mondial.
La juge continue : Mahmoud Thiam arriva à Conakry en 2009 pour “aider” la Guinée “et non pas pour la dépouiller.” “Il vit la corruption tout autour de lui. Il décida finalement d’y succumber.” La juge prête ici des intentions généreuses et un motif louable à Mahmoud Thiam. Mais la réalité est différente. Car ce n’est pas à son arrivée que M. Thiam se rendit compte de la vénalité rampante en Guinée. Il connaissait les réalités du pays. Et il devait bien au courant de l’effondrement de la moralité publique dans son pays natal et du manque de confiance des dirigeants par les populations. Le fossé se creuse depuis le début des années 1960. En 2009, l’écart était devenu béant et visible de tous, à domicile comme à l’étranger.
Lansana Conté meurt le 22 décembre 2008.Quelques heures plus tard, son remplaçant choisi et préparé, un certain capitaine Moussa Dadis Camara, chef du service carburant des Forces armées, s’empare du pouvoir. Il s’y installe, appuyé par le Conseil national pour la démocratie et le développement. Pressenti pour le poste de Premier ministre, Komara Kabinet invite Mahmoud Thiam à participer à son gouvernement. Consentant, il négocie son départ de UBS et part dare-dare pour Conaky. Son plan — et peut-être l’offre — est arrêté : obtenir un poste lucratif, offrant plein d’occasions pour des tractations plus ou moins légitimes, des commissions rondelettes, ainsi que des pourboires juteux.
Mahmoud donne à Global Mining Observer en 2014 une version arrondie et édulcorée des circonstances de sa nomination gouvernementale. Il y expose aussi une conception superficielle, naïve, démagogique et prédatrice du développement, qui serait induit et impulsé par l’industrie extractive. Les préalables culturels lui échappent, bien sûr. Et, paradoxalement, les critères d’ordre financier ne font même pas l’objet d’une esquisse d’explicitation…
Le 14 janvier 2009, il entre au gouvernement dirigé par Komara Kabinet, où il occupe le poste de ministre des Mines et de l’Energie, sous la présidence du petit capitaine. Le 3 décembre 2009, Dadis et Toumba Diakité ont une altercation orageuse au sujet du massacre de centaines de manifestants pacifiques le 28 septembre précédent au stade sportif de Conakry. La dispute vire au drame et des coups de feu sont échangés. Dadis reste sur le carreau, grièvement blessé; Touba, lui, s’enfuit et se réfugie hors de Guinée. En janvier 2010 un régime de Transition est créé à la place du CNDD. Il a pour mission d’organiser l’élection présidentielle avant la fin de l’année. Général Sékouba Konaté le dirige. (A noter que cet officier est interdit de séjour aux USA depuis 2016 pour flagrant délit de trafic de devises). Et Jean-Marie Doré remplace Komara Kabinet à la Primature. Le 15 février 2010 Mahmoud Thiam conserve son portefeuille, désormais appelé Mines et la Géologie, moins l’Energie donc. Le 4 janvier 2011 Mahmoud Thiam est débarqué du gouvernement par Alpha Condé, le nouveau président “élu”. Peu après M. Thiam quittait la Guinée pour retourner dans sa patrie d’adoption, les USA. Pour son malheur, il avait déjà enfreint la loi anti-corruption étrangère connue sous le nom de Foreign Corrupt Practice Act. Dès lors, patient et méticuleux, le FBI l’attendait de pied ferme. Ainsi, dans son interview avec Global Mining Observer, Mahmoud avoue se sentir sous surveillance policière depuis 2004.
“… une terre où la force de la loi n’existe pas.” Lapidaire et exacte, la formule précédente par Juge Cote dépeint bien la Guinée. Elle s’applique à ce pays, hier comme aujourd’hui, depuis 1959. Et tant que la situation durera, il ne faudrait pas s’attendre à la réalisation de gros investissements : Konkouré, Simandou, chemin de fer trans-guinéen, nouveaux ports et aéroports, universités dignes de ce nom, etc.
Mahmoud Thiam “ne montra pas de remords pour sa culpabilité” affirmée par le jury. “J’ai même perçu quelqu’un qui croit exercer un droit”… de profiter des recettes de la corruption, ajoute la juge. Cet état d’esprit est un cancer qui s’est presque généralisé dans la fonction publique guinéenne. Lorsqu’un fonctionnaire est nommé à un poste “lucratif”, on lui dit : “C’est ta chance, saisis-la.” “Si tu n’en profites pas pour détourner le bien public à tes fins personnelles, alors tu es maudit ! »
Le code pénal fédéral américain recommande 12 ans ou plus pour le genre de crime dont Mahmoud Thiam a été reconnu coupable. En imposant une peine de 7 ans, la juge a tenu compte d’un argument de l’avocat défenseur Aaron Goldsmith. Pour attirer la compassion et la grâce des jurés et de la juge, celui-ci a invoqué “la torture et le meurtre” du prisonnier politique que fut le père de Mahmoud Thiam. Zélé, l’avocat parla du “violent régime communiste à la tête de la Guinée en 1971”. La dictature de Sékou Touré fut d’une violence inouïe, certes. Mais le tyran n’était pas d’obédience communiste. Il était sékoutouréiste ! C’est-à-dire pire que le communisme.
A s’en tenir au communiqué de l’agence de presse, l’avocat n’a pas fourni au tribunal les circonstances de la disparition de M. Thiam père. Les indications suivantes suffisent pour combler la lacune. De qui parle-t-on ? Il s’agit ici de Baba Hady Thiam, licencié en droit et directeur de la Banque guinéenne du Commerce Extérieur (BGCE). Intègre et rompu dans la gestion, l’inspection et l’audit bancaires, il faisait partie de l’élite de ce secteur dans les années 1960. Par malheur, le chef de l’Etat guinéen ne connaissait en matière de finance et de banque que les manigances et les magouilles. Entre la probité des professionnels et la fourberie du politicien, la collision et le choc devinrent inévitables. Le groupe de Baba Hady Thiam n’était pas dupe. Au contraire, il mesurait l’ampleur des dégâts causés par la gabegie de Sékou Touré. Se sachant démasqué, et pour éteindre la contradiction à son avantage, le président prit les devants de façon draconienne et tragique. Il accusa, sans la moindre preuve, ses cadres de banque de complicité avec le commando militaire guinéo-portugais qui attaqua Conakry le 22 novembre 1970. Ils furent arrêtés sans mandat, jugés en leur absence, et fusillés ou pendus par des pelotons d’exécution qui incluaient capitaine Diarra Traoré et lieutenant Lansana Conté. Outre Baba Hady Thiam, les victimes de la purge du secteur de la banque incluaient :
Ousmane Baldé, Barry III, Moriba Magassouba et Kara Soufiana Keita, pendus publiquement le 25 janvier 1971.
Félix Matos Gnan Ces pères de famille expièrent pour un crime qu’ils n’avaient pas commis. Ils ne laissèrent pas de fortune à leur famille, mais ils lèguent à la postérité une vie exemplaire et, en l’occurrence, un casier judiciaire vierge.
En plongeant délibérément dans les réseaux de corruption qui minent la Guinée, Mahmoud Thiam a pris le chemin opposé des idéaux, de la droiture et de la rectitude, incarnés par Baba Hady Thiam et sa génération.
It turns out he was, himself, a big-time offender in the plundering of the country’s meager finances. Mahmoud belongs in the category of high level of corrupt officials: presidents, government ministers, administrations’ civil servants, who have ruined Guinea: from Sékou Touré to Alpha Condé, and everyone in between, i.e., Lansana Conté, Moussa Dadis Camara, Sékouba Konaté. Therefore, Mr. Thiam’s assessment couldn’t be more accurate. He knew where the bodies were buried! In 2009 he left a job position at a New York City bank to answer the siren calls of the military junta of Dadis Camara. In Conakry he was appointed Minister of Mines… A year later, the newly “elected” president Alpha Condé decided not to keep Mr. Thiam in the government. Soon after Mahmoud came back here to the USA… However, during his short tenure he had collected millions of dollars in bribery. He thought he had fooled everybody and that he had succeeded in stealing so much money from the Guinean people. Little did he know, perhaps, that the US Federal Government had an eye on the unscrupulous and rampant venality in Guinea. A salient case in point was President Obama’s State of the Union Address of 2010, in which he declared pointedly:
« That’s why we stand with the girl who yearns to go to school in Afghanistan; why we support the human rights of the women marching through the streets of Iran; why we advocate for the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea. For America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity. (Applause.) Always. (Applause.) »
Seven years after his heydays as a high-flying minister, and after Barack Obama’s public and generous stance, justice was served today with the sentencing of Mahmoud Thiam to seven years in a federal prison in America. Bien mal acquis ne profite pas… toujours ! I reproduce below the press release by the US Department of Justice. Tierno S. Bah
A former Minister of Mines and Geology of the Republic of Guinea was sentenced today to seven years in prison, and three years of supervised release, for laundering bribes paid to him by executives of China Sonangol International Ltd. (China Sonangol) and China International Fund, SA (CIF).
Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim of the Southern District of New York, Assistant Director Stephen E. 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 made the announcement.
Mahmoud Thiam, 50, of New York, New York, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Denise L. Cote of the Southern District of New York. Thiam was convicted on May 3, after a seven-day trial of one count of transacting in criminally derived property and one count of money laundering.
“Mahmoud Thiam engaged in a corrupt scheme to benefit himself at the expense of the people of Guinea,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Blanco. “Corruption is a cancer on society that destabilizes institutions, inhibits fair and free competition, and imposes significant burdens on ordinary law-abiding people just trying to live their everyday lives. Today’s sentence sends a strong message to corrupt individuals like Thiam that if they attempt to use the U.S. financial system to hide their bribe money they will be investigated, held accountable, and punished.”
“As a unanimous jury found at trial, Thiam abused his position as Guinea’s Minister of Mines to take millions in bribes from a Chinese conglomerate, and then launder that money through the American financial system,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Kim. “Enriching himself at the expense of one Africa’s poorest countries, Thiam used some of the Chinese bribe money to pay his children’s Manhattan private school tuition and to buy a $3.75 million estate in Dutchess County. Today’s sentence shows that if you send your crime proceeds to New York, whether from drug dealing, tax evasion or international bribery, you may very well find yourself at the front end of long federal prison term.”
“Thiam abused his official position, but the outcome shows that no one is above the law,” said Assistant Director Stephen E. Richardson. “The FBI will not stand by while individuals attempt to live by their own rules and use the United States as a safe haven for their ill-gotten gains. I would like to applaud the dedicated investigators and prosecutors who have worked to hold those who have committed these crimes accountable for their illegal actions.”
“Today’s sentencing should remind the public that no matter who you are, or how much money you have, you’re not immune from prosecution. The FBI will continue to use all resources at our disposal to uncover crimes of this nature and expose them for what they really are,” said Assistant Director in Charge Sweeney
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. In exchange for bribes paid by executives of China Sonangol and CIF, Thiam used his position as Minister of Mines to influence 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 further showed that Thiam participated in a scheme to launder the bribe payments from 2009 to 2011, during which time China Sonangol and CIF paid him $8.5 million through a bank account in Hong Kong. Thiam then transferred approximately $3.9 million to bank accounts in the U.S. and used the money to pay for luxury goods and other expenses. To conceal the bribe payments, Thiam falsely claimed to banks in Hong Kong and the U.S. that he was employed as a consultant and that the money was income from the sale of land that he earned before he was a minister.
The trial evidence showed that the purpose of the bribes 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.
The FBI’s International Corruption Squads in New York City and Los Angeles investigated the case. 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 prosecuted the case. Fraud Section Assistant Chief Tarek Helou and Trial Attorney Sarah Edwards, and Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section Senior Trial Attorney Stephen Parker previously investigated the case. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs also provided substantial assistance in this matter.
I am re-posting here Jelani Cobb’s article (The New Yorker) written around the blunder of Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Dr. Ben Carson, whereby he compared African slaves to immigrants. This is the same person who, out of the blue, claimed in 2013 that: “Obamacare is really … the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.” The +20 million people who got insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) would beg to differ. Anyhow, Dr. Carson will, most likely, not become president of the United States. The world will thus be probably a better place. Because despite his acknowledged skills as a neurosurgeon, Carson is a mediocre student of history. Should he want to remedy that self-inflicted intellectual handicap, he would have to rethink slavery. And first of all, he must admit that the Slave Trade is “America’s Original Sin.” Consequently, it was not some migratory itch or urge that uprooted millions of Africans and dumped them on the shores of the “New World.” On the contrary, they were taken out and across the Atlantic Ocean in chains. Upon landing, and as Edward E. Baptist put it best, they toiled, from dawn to dusk and in sweat, tears and blood, for the “Making of American Capitalism.”
Tierno S. Bah
In referring to slaves as “immigrants,” Ben Carson followed a long-standing American tradition of eliding the ugliness that is part of the country’s history.
Earlier this week, Ben Carson, the somnolent surgeon dispatched to oversee the Department of Housing and Urban Development on behalf of the Trump Administration, created a stir when he referred to enslaved black people—stolen, trafficked, and sold into that status—as “immigrants” and spoke of their dreams for their children and grandchildren. In the ensuing hail of criticism, Carson doubled down, saying that it was possible for someone to be an involuntary immigrant. Carson’s defenses centered upon strict adherence to the definition of the word “immigrant” as a person who leaves one country to take up residence in another. This is roughly akin to arguing that it is technically possible to refer to a kidnapping victim as a “house guest,” presuming the latter term refers to a temporary visitor to one’s home. Carson had already displayed a propensity for gaffes during his maladroit Presidential candidacy, and it might be easy to dismiss his latest one as the least concerning element of having a neurosurgeon with no relevant experience in charge of housing policy were it not a stand-in for a broader set of concerns about the Trump Administration.
A week earlier, Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, had described historically black colleges and universities as pioneers in school choice—a view that can only co-exist with reality if we airbrush segregation into a kind of level playing field in which ex-slaves opted to attend all-black institutions rather than being driven to them as a result of efforts to preserve the supposed sanctity of white ones. The Trump Administration is not alone in proffering this rosy view of American racial history. Last week, in a story about changes being made at Thomas Jefferson‘s estate, Monticello, the Washington Post referred to Sally Hemings, the enslaved black woman who bore several of Jefferson’s children, as his “mistress”—a term that implies far more autonomy and consent than is possible when a woman is a man’s legal property. Last fall, the textbook publisher McGraw-Hill faced criticism for a section of a history book that stated, “The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.” The word “worker” typically carries the connotation of remuneration rather than lifelong forced labor and chattel slavery.
One part of the issue here is the eliding of the ugliness of the slave past in this country. This phenomenon is neither novel nor particularly surprising. The unwillingness to confront this narrative is tied not simply to the miasma of race but to something more subtle and, in the current atmosphere, more potentially treacherous: the reluctance to countenance anything that runs contrary to the habitual optimism and self-anointed sense of the exceptionalism of American life. It is this state-sanctioned sunniness from which the view of the present as a middle ground between an admirable past and a halcyon future springs. But the only way to sustain that sort of optimism is by not looking too closely at the past. And thus the past can serve only as an imperfect guide to the troubles of the present.
In his 1948 essay “The Gangster as Tragic Hero,” Robert Warshow wrote about the mid-century efforts to pressure studios to stop producing their profitable gangster movies. The concerns focussed partly upon the violence of the films but more directly upon the fear that these films offered a fundamentally pessimistic view of life and were therefore un-American. There is a neat through-line from those critics to Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” idealism to the shopworn rhetoric of nearly every aspirant to even local public office that the nation’s “best days are ahead of us.” We are largely adherents of the state religion of optimism—and not of a particularly mature version of it, either. This was part of the reason Donald Trump’s sermons of doom were seen as so discordant throughout last year’s campaign. He offered followers a diet of catastrophe, all of it looming immediately if not already under way. He told an entire nation, in the most transparently demagogic of his statements, that he was the only one who could save it from imminent peril. And he was nonetheless elected President of the United States.
Strangely enough, many of us opted to respond to Trump’s weapons-grade pessimism in the most optimistic way possible, conjuring best-case scenarios in which he would simply be a modern version of Richard Nixon, or perhaps of Andrew Jackson. But he is neither of these. Last summer, as his rallies tipped toward violence and the rhetoric seemed increasingly jarring, it was common to hear alarmed commentators speak of us all being in “uncharted waters.” This was naïve, and, often enough, self-serving. For many of us, particularly those who reckon with the history of race, the true fear was not that we were on some unmapped terrain but that we were passing landmarks that were disconcertingly familiar. In response to the increasingly authoritarian tones of the executive branch, we plumbed the history of Europe in the twentieth century for clues and turned to the writings of Czeslaw Milosz and George Orwell. We might well have turned to the writings of W. E. B. Du Bois and James Baldwin for the more direct, domestic version of this question but looked abroad, at least in part, as a result of our tacit consensus that tragedy is a foreign locale. It has been selectively forgotten that traits of authoritarianism neatly overlap with traits of racism visible in the recent American past.
The habitual tendency to excise the most tragic elements of history creates a void in our collective understanding of what has happened in the past and, therefore, our understanding of the potential for tragedy in the present. In 1935, when Sinclair Lewis wrote “It Can’t Happen Here,” it already was happening here, and had been since the end of Reconstruction. In 1942, the N.A.A.C.P. declared a “Double V” campaign—an attempt to defeat Fascism abroad and its domestic corollary of American racism.
Similarly, it was common in the days immediately following September 11th to hear it referred to as the nation’s first large-scale experience with terrorism—or at least the worst since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, staged by Timothy McVeigh. But the nation’s first anti-terrorism law was the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, designed to stall the attempts to terrorize emancipated slaves out of political participation. McVeigh’s bombing, which claimed the lives of a hundred and sixty-eight people, was not the worst act of terrorism in the United States at that point—it was not even the worst act of terrorism in the history of Oklahoma. Seventy-four years earlier, in what became known as the Tulsa Race Riot, the city’s black population was attacked and aerially bombed; at least three hundred people were killed. Such myopia thrives in the present and confounds the reasoning of the director of the FBI, James Comey, who refused to declare Dylann Roof’s murder of nine black congregants in a South Carolina church, done in hopes of sparking a race war, as an act of terrorism—a designation he did not withhold from Omar Mateen’s murderous actions in the Pulse night club, in Orlando.
The American capacity for tragedy is much broader and far more robust than Americans—most of us, anyway—recognize. Our sense of ourselves as exceptional, of our country as a place where we habitually avert the worst-case scenario, is therefore a profound liability in times like the present. The result is a failure to recognize the parameters of human behavior and, consequently, the signs of danger as they become apparent to others who are not crippled by such optimism. A belief that we are exempt from the true horrors of human behavior and the accompanying false sense of security have led to nearly risible responses to Trumpism.
It has become a cliché of each February to present the argument that “black history is American history,” yet that shopworn ideal has new relevance. A society with a fuller sense of history and its own capacity for tragedy would have spotted Trump’s zero-sum hustle from many miles in the distance. Without it, though, it’s easy to mistake the overblown tribulations he sold his followers for candor, not a con. The sense of history as a chart of increasing bounties enabled tremendous progress but has left Americans—most of us, anyway—uniquely unsuited to look at ourselves as we truly are and at history for what it is. Our failure to reckon with this past and the centrality of race within it has led us to broadly mistake the clichés of history for novelties of current events.
Entitled “Exploiting a State on the Brink of Failure: The Case of Guinea” this paper is excerpt from Part II, Country Case Studies, of J.R. Mailey‘s The Anatomy of the Resource Curse: Predatory Investment in Africa’s Extractive Industries, published by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. Washington, D.C. Special Report No. 3. May 2015. The full PDF Report (146 pages) can be downloaded from BlogGuinée’s Documents section. Tierno S. Bah
Guinea is blessed with generous mineral endowments. It is the world’s second largest exporter of bauxite, the key ingredient in aluminum production. However, by virtually any measure, Guinea is one of the poorest countries in the world. Its annual GDP per capita is just $460. Less than half of Guinea’s population has access to running water and electricity, and a mere 30 percent of the adult population is literate. Almost 15 percent of children born in Guinea will die before reaching the age of 5.
A widely recognized cause of Guinea’s plight is poor governance. Abuse of public office and mismanagement of public resources and institutions have been the norm in Guinea for decades. The country routinely ranks near the bottom of Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index. Corruption has crippled the state’s ability to perform basic public services and has created an environment of impunity. Guinea has been subject to autocratic rule almost since independence in 1958.
Between 1984 and 2008, Guinea was ruled by the notoriously rapacious regime of President Lansana Conté characterized by its opacity, predatory practices, and lack of accountability. He and his associates routinely made cash withdrawals from the country’s central bank in broad daylight 213. Petty corruption was also widespread, as civil servants in the president’s good graces were free to overinvoice, misappropriate funds, and solicit bribes without fear of consequences or investigation.
On the evening of December 22, 2008, President Conté died following a long illness. Six hours after the announcement of Conte’s death, a group of military officers took to the airwaves announcing the formation of a military government calling itself the National Council for Democracy and Development (Conseil National pour la Démocratie et le Développement, CNDD). Their first act was to suspend the constitution and dissolve the National Assembly. The coup was led by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, a junior officer who headed the army’s fuel supplies unit. On December 24, 2008, it was announced that Camara was President of the CNDD.
On the Brink of Failure : A Desperate and Isolated Regime
The African Union (AU) swiftly condemned the coup. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) suspended Guinea’s membership. The United States and European Union put on hold some key bilateral assistance programs.
Inheriting a state on the brink of failure, the CNDD promised to undertake widespread reforms. Camara pledged that the junta would organize “free, credible and transparent elections” within 2 years’ time, telling reporters “the council has no ambitions to hold on to power.” 214
The CNDD also vowed to crack down on drug trafficking and corruption. “Anyone who has misappropriated state assets for his benefit, if caught, will be judged and punished before the people,” Camara told an audience of hundreds of public representatives, including trade unionists, politicians, and clergy 215. The mining sector was to receive particular attention as CNDD officials promised to undertake a review of all existing contracts and renegotiate those that were unfavorable. The junta’s promises of reform proved empty. Allies of Camara were granted key posts in government and on the boards of foreign companies operating in Guinea. The junta replaced regional administrators with loyal officers who ran state institutions by fiat. Already decaying public sector institutions slid into irrelevance. The junta tightly restricted civil liberties and political dissent. Those who criticized the government or tried to oppose the CNDD were intimidated, harassed, or attacked. Corruption, meanwhile, actually accelerated. When he took office in 2011, President Alpha Condé estimated that the junta spent more during its 2-year tenure than the country had spent in the previous five decades 216.
Control over the country’s lucrative mining sector was concentrated within the hands of the newly appointed Minister of Mines, Mahmoud Thiam, a former Wall Street banker who held U.S. and Guinean citizenship. Though he spent extensive time abroad even after assuming office, Thiam proved extremely influential. He engineered a shakeup of the mining sector that ushered in several multibillion-dollar deals and prompted audits of several major foreign mining companies’ activities in Guinea. In reality, the changes merely re-engineered long standing patronage networks to suit Guinea’s new rulers.
Frustrations among Guineans steadily mounted. On September 28, 2009, tens of thousands of Guineans organized by civil society activists gathered at a rally held in Conakry’s main soccer stadium to protest the junta after it became apparent that Camara would not honor his promise to sit out the presidential elections scheduled for January 2010. Shortly after opposition leaders arrived at the protest, an armed contingent of presidential guards, soldiers, police, and militia gathered at the exits of the stadium and fired tear gas at the protestors before charging the stadium and opening fire. According to Human Rights Watch, the attackers killed 157 protesters, raped dozens of women and girls, and left more than 1,400 wounded in the massacre that ensued 217. Foreign governments and regional organizations tightened sanctions and called for a speedy transition to civilian rule.
Whereas many investors would shy away from such a turbulent political context because of concerns about political risk and damage to corporate reputation, the Queensway Group saw opportunity.
Every Crook on Earth Shows up in Conakry
To gain access to Guinea’s lucrative mining deposits and exploration rights in its potential offshore oil fields, the Queensway Group made contact with the junta soon after the December 2008 coup by approaching Guinea’s envoy to China, Ambassador Mamadi Diaré218.
In early 2009, the Group sent a delegation to Conakry to meet with the junta. The Group’s main contact in Conakry was Mines Minister Mahmoud Thiam. Initially Thiam was skeptical, saying that:
“When a new government comes into power, especially an inexperienced one, there’s one phenomenon that never fails: every crook on earth shows up. And every crook on earth has the biggest promises, has access to billions of dollars of lines of credits, of loans.” 219
However, his concerns subsided after Sonangol CEO, Manuel Vicente, flew to Conakry shortly thereafter 220.
Still, other senior officials in the new government remained skeptical. After all, the Queensway Group was merely one of numerous international investors vying for a slice of Guinea’s resource bounty. Hoping to separate itself from other contenders, Queensway sponsored a new national airline, Air Guinée International. Queensway hosted a celebration at Conakry International Airport to commemorate the launch of the new airline. Camara was the guest of honor. In attendance were Sam Pa and Lo Fong Hung, representing CIF and China Sonangol, the sponsors of the national airline. The Queensway Group was accompanied by a delegation that included François Chazelle, then Airbus Vice President of Sales, Executive & Private Aviation, who had a pre-existing business relationship with Sam Pa from China Sonangol’s purchase of three Airbus jets. Also part of the delegation was Ian Lee, then Regional Director for Africa and the Middle East at International Enterprise Singapore, a government agency that promotes Singaporean business interests abroad 221.
The partnership gained steam the following week, on June 12, 2009, when CIF and the CNDD signed a framework agreement that outlined plans to establish a joint venture company to be used as a vehicle for the Group’s investments in the country. CIF would be the majority partner in the joint venture, holding 85 percent of the company’s shares. (This 85-percent stake was ultimately divided between CIF and China Sonangol.) The Government of Guinea initially would carry a 15-percent stake with the option to purchase an additional 10 percent of the company’s shares from Queensway at a later date.
The framework agreement stipulated that the joint venture company would carry out projects in a broad range of sectors, including “energy, water treatment, electricity, transportation, housing, agriculture, fisheries, or in any other area of common interest.” 222 Indeed, as it had done elsewhere, the Group promised to undertake an ambitious and extravagant set of projects, including a new thermal power station and several large dams, as well as the construction of palatial government office buildings, valued at $650 million. It would install a trans-Guinean railway to transport minerals from the country’s interior to a port on the coast. The Group promised to ship 100 buses to Conakry within 45 days of signing the agreement. The recently inaugurated airline, Air Guinée International, was also part of the package 223.
As in Angola, CIF committed to financing the projects and would be in charge of design and implementation. The Guinean government, in turn, would facilitate CIF’s ability to obtain all necessary permits and approvals, and “applicable exemptions.” Importantly, the framework agreement specified that during a period of 12 months (“the exclusivity period”), the joint venture company would have exclusive rights to undertake projects in all of the specified sectors. Indeed, the government agreed “not to undertake at any time during the exclusivity period, discussions, negotiations or enter into contracts or agreements with a third party on competing projects.” 224 Importantly also, a confidentiality clause stipulated that “all information exchanged between [the parties of the deal] in connection with this Framework Agreement and all documents, materials and other information … under this Framework Agreement and on negotiations related thereto … will remain strictly confidential to the parties, both during the performance and at the end of the Project.” 225
As sweeping as it was, the framework agreement was just that, the framework for a partnership. Many of the details of the partnership’s setup and operations still needed to be ironed out. The Queensway Group sent two envoys, Jack Cheung Chun Fai, a senior aide to Sam Pa, and Adrian Lian, to represent its interests in Conakry. For the Guinean side, Camara created a “steering committee” to coordinate CIF and China Sonangol’s investments in the country. Mahmoud Thiam served as one of the steering committee’s vice presidents 226.
The “Contract of the Century”
On October 10, 2009, just 2 weeks after the September 28 massacre, representatives from the Queensway Group and the Guinean junta signed a shareholders agreement to finalize the terms of their partnership. Vicente and Cheung signed the agreement on behalf of Queensway. Two representatives from the CNDD—Minister of Finance Mamadou Sandé, and Minister of Justice Siba Nolamou—signed the agreement for the junta. Thiam called the shareholders agreement “the contract of the century.” Although the documents governing the partnership were not released to the public, Thiam provided the press with an overview of the agreement, likening the deal to the partnership between the Queensway Group and Angola:
The $7 billion will be financed by the CIF through the same mechanisms used for the $11 billion invested by the Chinese in Angola since 2005: a combination of their own funds, private and Chinese state banks’ credit lines, and by international banks upon their signature 227.
The shareholders agreement formally created a joint venture between the Queensway Group and the Guinean state called Africa Development Corporation (ADC). Singapore-registered subsidiaries of China Sonangol and CIF were each to hold a 42.5-percent stake in the deal, and the Government of Guinea would carry the remaining 15 percent228. The agreement stipulated that ADC would have several subsidiary companies for various business sectors operating under the label “Guinea Development Corporation” (GDC). ADC would own 85 percent of each subsidiary, and the Guinean state would control the remaining 15 percent. These companies included:
GDC Mining Oil & Gas
GDC Commercial & Logistics
GDC Water & Energy
Upon inspection, the terms of the deal were flagrantly unfavorable to the Guinean people. The agreement effectively provided ADC and the GDCs with exclusive rights to projects in a wide variety of sectors. Two clauses illustrate the scope of the deal:
The parties propose that ADC and the GDCs should be used as their joint venture vehicle to inter alia
construct and/or provide services in the following sectors: water, electricity (including power generators, power plant, hydorelectric [sic] dams), housing, port, fisheries, telecommunication, airport, airline, logistics, road, railway and all such transportation, infrastructure and other utilities projects
invest and operate diamond, iron, bauxite, gold, oil and gas and minerals concessions
such other projects as may be agreed by the Parties from time to time (the ‘Projects’), in the Republic of Guinea….
Subject to the laws and regulations in force, The Republic of Guinea shall give full exclusivity to ADC and the GDCs in respect of the sectors identified and approved by the Parties, as set out in the proposed Projects to be undertaken by the GDCs in this Agreement and the Master Agreement (‘Projects Sectors’) … 229
In essence, the shareholders agreement granted ADC control of the country’s entire economy for as long as the junta saw fit.
The composition of ADC’s three-member board of directors provides a second example of the extremely disadvantageous terms. According to the shareholders agreement, the board would consist of three members, two nominated by CIF and China Sonangol and the third nominated by the Guinean government. According to Africa-Asia Confidential, the three initial board members were Adrian Lian, Jack Cheung, and Thiam. Requiring only a simple majority for key investment decisions, this board structure guaranteed that the Queensway Group would permanently control all key investment decision making for the company (and country)230.
The ADC’s shareholders agreement contained a confidentiality clause that each party “shall treat as confidential and not disclose or use any information of a confidential nature relating to ADC and the GDCs or the other Parties received or obtained as a result of entering into this Agreement.” The junta had entered into an agreement that would have major implications for nearly every sector of the country’s economy yet it would be unable to discuss any specifics with its citizens about the investments or parties with whom it made this deal. According to The Economist, the Queensway Group was “so pleased that it reportedly gave Guinea’s military ruler a helicopter as a present.” 231
The Queensway Group also helped alleviate the junta’s short-term financial woes. Media reports claim that in late October 2009, CIF’s Singapore-registered subsidiary transferred $100 million from an account in Hong Kong to the Central Bank of Guinea. Thiam requested to use $50 million from this transfer for “emergency budgetary support” to keep the cash-strapped government afloat 232. Correspondence between China Sonangol and the Central Bank of Guinea links Sam Pa to this bank transfer. A July 21, 2010 letter from Alhassane Barry, then Governor of the Central Bank of Guinea, to “Mr. Antonio Famtosonghiu Sampo Menezes”—a known alias of Sam Pa—confirmed that at least one $45 million bank transfer did occur from a Bank of China (Hong Kong) account under the same alias.
International criticism of the Group’s deals in Guinea came swiftly.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning the deal and calling for its cancellation.
UK Minister for Europe, David Lidington, followed suit, criticizing the deals in an explanatory memorandum.
An analysis published by Chatham House stated that CIF “does not seem to regard the instability of military rule as a brake on its ambition. Far from it, the company seized on the coup to strike deals potentially giving it overwhelming control over the economy.” 233
Given the glaring deficiencies in the deal, the “contract of the century” was looking to be an economic debacle for Guineans.
Criticism Suppressed or Ignored
On October 8, 2009, several days before the deal was announced, Guinea’s Council of Ministers met to discuss “the various documents which were to govern the contractual relationship” with the Queensway Group. During this meeting, which was led by then Prime Minister Kabiné Komara, the Council of Ministers provided substantive feedback and raised several concerns about the draft shareholders agreement. However, upon review of the final version, Prime Minister Komara observed that the guidance of the Council of Ministers had largely been ignored and that “new provisions that [went] far beyond the mandate given to the Steering Committee of the Council … also emerged.” Prime Minister Komara then wrote to the steering committee responsible for coordinating investments by CIF and China Sonangol on November 4, 2009, urging that the Minister of Mines should renegotiate “certain clauses that were rather unbalanced for the Guinean side.” 234
When concerns expressed in the Prime Minister’s first letter went unaddressed, he wrote a second letter to the president of the steering committee. On December 2, 2009, copies were also sent to the Minister of Mines as well as to the Ministers of Justice and Economy. Attached to the second letter was a six-page memorandum that provided a detailed analysis of the deficiencies of the shareholders agreement and guidelines to “facilitate and expedite the revision and renegotiation” 235 of the contract. The memo stated that the Council of Ministers specifically had decided during its October 8 meeting that exclusivity should not be granted to ADC or the GDCs, though it did recognize that CIF and China Sonangol could serve jointly as a strategic partner. “Priority would be given to the strategic partner,” Prime Minister Komara wrote, “under the condition that the prices it offers are more profitable and that its competence and reputation in the sectors concerned are proven.” 236
Furthermore, the Prime Minister contended that exclusivity should be granted to ADC only for a fixed term of no more than 12 months and that such status should only apply to projects agreed upon when the framework agreement was negotiated.
The memo reveals that the Council of Ministers was unaware that the steering committee planned to create a national mining company with CIF:
The Council of Ministers did not…discuss the issue of [the creation of] a national mining company. Moreover, it is unacceptable to promise now that a foreign investor will be a shareholder in such a company, as it would give it ipso facto ownership of all present and future wealth of the country 237.
The Prime Minister questioned the entire premise and validity of the arrangement. “The Government will not grant concessions in return for investment,” the memo stated bluntly before advising the steering committee, “this clause should be dropped altogether.” Moreover, Prime Minister Komara contended that the shareholders agreement could not be considered final, stating that “the document cannot be legally binding in the current context of the transition as the areas and subjects covered are sensitive, diverse and strategic.” 238
While few Guineans were privy to the details about the partnership with the Group, at least one activist faced consequences for speaking out against the deals.
Yéro Baldé, then Director of Project Financing at Guinea Alumina Corporation, lost his job after vocalizing concerns about the deals that the junta had negotiated with the Queensway Group. On February 27, 2010, Baldé appeared on national television and criticized the deal. “There was something seriously wrong,” he later recalled. “The government had just raped women and killed innocent civilians, all investors were going away and yet this group stayed and signed. It’s hard to know what’s truly in it for Guinea in this contract.” 239
After Baldé’s appearance on national television, Thiam requested Guinea Alumina Corporation’s managers deal with their outspoken employee. Baldé was fired shortly thereafter 240.
The CNDD’s Witch Hunt in the Oil and Mining Sector
As if exclusive rights to all of Guinea’s unclaimed petroleum and mineral deposits were not enough, Queensway also helped to expedite the CNDD’s shakeup of the oil and mining sector by underwriting audits of oil and mining firms already operating in the country. Moscow-based United Company RUSAL Plc, the world’s largest aluminum company and a major player in Guinea’s mining sector, was the first subject of the audits. One of RUSAL’s most lucrative assets in Guinea, the Friguia bauxite and alumina complex, was the main target of the CNDD’s mining sector review. RUSAL had purchased the Friguia complex in 2006 from the Conté government. In May 2009, Thiam claimed to reporters that the Conté government had sold the complex to RUSAL for only $20 million dollars—a fraction of Friguia’s true worth—justifying the government’s legal proceedings to rectify the situation.
In early September 2009, a Guinean court determined that the 2006 sale of the Friguia complex was null and void.
According to Momo Sacko, a legal advisor to the Presidency at the time, this meant “that from now on, the [Friguia complex] is 100 percent owned by Guinea.” 241
On October 14, 2009, 6 weeks after the court decision voiding RUSAL’s ownership of Friguia and just days after the signing of the ADC shareholders agreement, the junta entered into a loan agreement with the Queensway Group. The agreement stipulated that CIF’s Singapore-registered subsidiary would extend a loan of up to $3.3 million to be used exclusively for the purpose of engaging Alex Stewart International, an international consultancy, “to perform an audit on specific mining operations in the Republic of Guinea, including RUSAL.” 242 The loan agreement was signed by Thiam, who insisted that CIF “was the only place where [the Government of Guinea] could get that money.” 243 In signing the agreement, Thiam also committed the Guinean state to pay CIF 2 percent of all funds that the junta recovered from Alex Stewart’s audit of the Russian mining giant as a “success fee entitlement.”
On January 13, 2010, Alex Stewart reported to the government that it was entitled to seek some $860 million in damages from RUSAL 244.
This meant that CIF could claim a success fee of potentially $19.2 million, a figure almost six times the original loan. Additionally, per the ADC shareholders agreement, ADC was poised to receive exclusive rights to the Friguia complex seized from RUSAL. RUSAL was only one of several investors targeted by the CNDD’s review of oil and mining contracts. Houston-based oil company Hyperdynamics Corporation similarly became embroiled in a dispute with the junta that led to the forfeiture of approximately 70 percent of its offshore oil acreage. According to Africa-Asia Confidential, this holding fell directly into the hands of China Sonangol 245.
Ousmane Kaba, head of the CNDD’s audit committee, told reporters at a news conference that the audits should not be seen as “a witch hunt.” The audits, according to Kaba, were an attempt to understand how and by whom key decisions had been made previously. “If we do not try to know how our country was managed yesterday,” he continued, “we cannot claim to bequeath to our children a prosperous Guinea.” 246
The role of the Queensway Group—a potential competitor of RUSAL—in financing the audit was clearly a conflict of interest which undermined the integrity of the contract review process. Another problematic aspect of the audit of Friguia (and the restructuring of the mining sector more broadly) were reports that Minister of Mines Thiam, Queensway’s key ally in Conakry, may have been rewarded financially for ensuring that CIF and China Sonangol benefited from the shakeup 247.
Thiam was implicated in another corruption scandal involving a major foreign investor that benefited from the mining sector review. Several reports claim that Thiam served as interlocutor for BSG Resources Ltd, a mining company controlled by Israeli billionaire Benny Steinmetz, to pay bribes to senior officials in the military. Thiam’s alleged role in these transactions subsequently became the subject of an FBI probe 248.
Queensway’s Changing Allegiances in Conakry
On December 3, 2009, the commander of the presidential guard shot and seriously wounded Captain Camara, the leader of Guinea’s junta. The following day, Camara was flown to Morocco for medical treatment. General Sékouba Konaté, the CNDD’s Vice President and Defense Minister, stepped in to run the government. Although many feared that the assassination attempt would send Guinea deeper into a crisis, leaders from the region worked in tandem with Konaté to hasten the country’s transition to civilian rule.
In January 2010, Konaté vowed that elections would be held within 6 months and, importantly, there would be no candidate from Guinea’s armed forces. Soon thereafter, Jean-Marie Doré, an opposition leader involved in organizing the September 28 protests, became interim Prime Minister and spearheaded preparations for presidential elections.
Although several of the Queensway Group’s key allies temporarily maintained their posts in Conakry, it became clear that major changes to the political landscape in Guinea were imminent. The Group sought to forge new relationships that would ensure that its presence in Guinea outlived the CNDD.
In late June 2010, the director of the communications unit for the interim Prime Minister dispatched a press release announcing a declaration of commitment between CIF and the interim government. The dispatch explained that Sam Pa and Thiam (still Minister of Mines) had come to meet with interim Prime Minister Doré. During the meeting, Sam Pa apparently touted China as an example of an economic model for African countries and extolled the value of the Queensway Group’s investments elsewhere on the continent.
“What China has achieved, Africa can do it too,” Sam Pa told Doré.
In a slideshow presentation, Sam Pa showcased the Queensway Group’s claimed accomplishments in Angola in an effort to demonstrate CIF’s “power and reliability.” 249 Sam Pa was reported to have suggested to the interim Prime Minister that the projects in Guinea could quickly get moving with the proper determination. Doré was quoted reciprocating Sam Pa’s enthusiasm by saying, “we want to express our commitment to working with China and, in particular, with you.” 250
Sam Pa’s courtship of the Prime Minister’s office contrasted sharply with the Queensway Group’s tense relationship with the Central Bank of Guinea during this time period. Shortly after Sam Pa met with interim Prime Minister Doré, the Queensway Group took steps to reclaim the funds it had transferred to the Central Bank of Guinea in November 2009 in the final months of the Camara junta 251.
In a series of letters in July 2010, Jack Cheung, Queensway’s representative in Conakry, wrote to the governor of Guinea’s central bank demanding that the remaining balance of the $45 million loan provided to the bank as “emergency budgetary support,” be transferred back to China Sonangol. Cheung threatened that there would be “serious political and legal consequences” if the government did not address China Sonangol’s concerns 252.
In his final demand letter, Cheung explained that the company’s auditor was “not satisfied with the controllability of the money deposited in the Central Bank of Guinea.… It is very important to transfer the money immediately…. Otherwise, our auditor and the department of finance of our group will lose confidence in investing in Guinea.” 253
Meanwhile, as Guinea’s political transition progressed, the Queensway Group heavily courted the two leading candidates in the country’s highly anticipated presidential elections.
According to Africa Confidential, the Queensway Group nominated one candidate’s wife, Mrs. Halimatou Diallo, to the board of Air Guinée International 254.
After Alpha Condé won the November 2010 presidential election, Queensway’s efforts to woo him intensified. Just over a month after his inauguration, Condé travelled to Angola for a state visit. In addition to meeting privately with President dos Santos, President Condé was given a tour of several CIF and GRN project sites. Angola’s Foreign Minister, George Chikoty, accompanied President Condé to the Novo Centradidade do Kilamba, the controversial public housing project linked to CIF on the outskirts of Luanda. Later he was escorted to Queensway’s cement plant located on the outskirts of the capital city 255.
Partnership with Bellzone
Hedging its risks, in May 2010, CIF also forged a partnership with Bellzone Mining, a relatively unknown firm predominantly owned by Australian investors. The company’s managing director and largest shareholder was an Australian national, Nikolajs Zuks, who held a 31.5-percent stake. CIF signed a series of agreements with Bellzone to jointly undertake projects in Guinea’s mining and infrastructure construction sectors on August 4, 2010.
The contract for the Bellzone deal was countersigned by Mines Minister Mahmoud Thiam and Minister of Economy and Finance Kerfalla Yansane—two holdover representatives from Guinea’s junta.
Upon finalizing the agreement, Bellzone’s managing director called CIF “a highly regarded group of companies with a proven track record of developing large infrastructure projects in Africa.” 256 Listing the advantages of partnering with CIF, Graham Fyfe, Bellzone’s chief operating officer, highlighted the firm’s deep pockets, stating that “from a cash point of view, yes, they do have a lot of cash.” Speaking at a mining conference in September 2011, Fyfe also cited the Queensway Group’s “intimate relationship with Sinopec” (one of China’s largest state-owned oil companies) and said that the firm likely has “relationships at the highest levels in China.” The official referred to CIF’s legal and commercial team as “a challenging bunch of guys” willing to engage in “tough negotiating,” but said that overall Bellzone found that CIF was “easy to do business with.” 257 CIF and Bellzone agreed to jointly explore for iron ore at two sites in Guinea, Kalia and Forécariah. CIF agreed to finance the Kalia Iron Project, which would cost approximately $4.45 billion, in return for rights to purchase all of the mine’s output at market price.
Following the signing of the CIF-Bellzone agreement, Acting President Konaté signed a decree that gave Bellzone “an exclusive corridor” to construct railway and port facilities in order to export iron ore production from Kalia.” 258 As part of its agreement with Bellzone, CIF agreed to finance and develop the needed infrastructure. At the same time, CIF and Bellzone formed a joint venture “to undertake the accelerated exploration and development program at CIF’s Forécariah iron permits that lie between 30 and 80 kilometres from the Guinea coast.” 259 Even after securing two productive mining concessions in partnership with Bellzone, the Queensway Group continued its attempts to wrest control of mining opportunities from rival firms. During a September 2011 meeting with officials from the Government of Guinea, officials from the CIF-Bellzone team attempted to persuade the Condé government to grant it the rights to the Simandou iron ore mine, the lucrative concession run by Rio Tinto 260. When The Sunday Times (UK) asked if his company indeed was trying to gain control of Simandou away from the rival mining giant, Zuks simply responded, “What’s wrong with that?” 261
Sorting through the Mess
After numerous campaign promises and public statements in the weeks following his inauguration in December 2010, President Condé took concrete steps to reform the mining sector. The newly elected president enlisted the services of billionaire philanthropist George Soros, founder of the Open Society Institute, to assist with a mining sector review process. “Guinea is currently experiencing a new era,” Soros told reporters. “Its natural resources have in the past not been used to benefit the people. Guinea now has an opportunity to change this.” 262 The review process began shortly thereafter. In a June 30, 2011 letter of intent to the IMF, the government found that only one loan of $78 million was ever contracted by the Queensway Group over the 2 years of engagement and billions promised 263. Going forward the Government of Guinea promised to “refrain from any non-concessional borrowing or the issuance of guarantees under [the CIF and China Sonangol] contract.” 264
A new mining code developed by the Condé regime was approved on September 9, 2011. International civil society organizations, several of which served as advisors to the Government of Guinea throughout the reform process, lauded the new code, highlighting both the content and the process by which it was crafted. The mining code mandated the publication of all mining sector contracts and established a formal commitment to the principles of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. It established clear and transparent “procedures for the award, renewal, transfer, and cancellation of mining titles.” The code required all companies in Guinea’s mining sector to sign a “code of conduct” and develop an anticorruption monitoring plan in coordination with Guinean authorities. Mohamed Lamine Fofana, the Condé government’s Minister of Mines, told reporters that “The new mining code will allow future investors in Guinea to work in transparency.” 265
On January 22, 2012, the Government of Guinea published the terms of reference for the Guinea Contract Review Process that outlined the institutions and procedures involved in the process. In this way, the terms of reference aimed to: bolster the legitimacy of mining contracts; eliminate unchecked suspicion about contracts; prevent reforms from undermining investor confidence; and reinforce the legal basis of contracts. The document also outlined plans to establish two committees to oversee the process—the technical committee and the strategic committee—and identified the roles for each. In short, a serendipitous turn of events that catalyzed the country’s first democratic election since independence in 1958 brought a window of opportunity for reform in the mining sector.
On February 15, 2013, Guinea’s government published existing mining sector contracts online, making it one of the first African states to make all such documents available to the public 266. Additionally, the Condé administration recognized the institutional capacity constraints it faced and sought technical and strategic assistance from leading international experts on extractive sector transparency. Revenue Watch Institute (now the Natural Resource Governance Institute) partnered with the World Bank Institute and Columbia University to set up the Web site where Guinea’s mining contracts were published 267. The same organization also partnered with the Institut Supérieur de l’Information et de la Communication and the Thomson Reuters Foundation to conduct a 10-day training program for 15 Guinean journalists on reporting on the oil and mining industries 268.
Even after the country’s transition to civilian rule, investigating corruption remained dangerous.
In just 8 months as Director of the Treasury, Aissatou Boiro gained a reputation for being a fierce opponent of corruption and had launched official investigations into the disappearance of millions of dollars from Guinea’s state coffers during the tenure of previous regimes.
On November 9, 2012, Boiro was shot and killed by a group of men wearing military uniforms.
Former colleagues believe the assassination was an attempt to thwart an ongoing investigation. “In Guinea all of the cases of large-scale embezzlement happen at the treasury department,” one former treasury official told Reuters. “(Boiro) became inconvenient for certain economic predators who are in the government.” 269
While the reform process struggled to maintain momentum, Queensway continued to advance its agenda in Guinea’s mining sector through its partnership with Bellzone. On March 23, 2012, Bellzone announced that it had begun production and product stockpiling at its Forécariah mine. On August 9, 2012, Bellzone signed an offtake agreement with Glencore, a Swiss commodities trading firm, for the latter to purchase a 50-percent share of iron ore produced at the Forécariah mine. Less than a month later, on September 4, 2012, West African Iron Ore Group, also based in Switzerland, announced that it had reached a similar agreement with CIF for the purchase of the other 50-percent share of ore produced at the mine. China Sonangol’s partnership with Bellzone did not go entirely smoothly, however. Trading at £92 (about US$147) a share in early 2011, Bellzone stock plummeted over the next 4 years to only £0.50 (about US$0.80) a share amid plunging iron ore prices and concerns over the viability of Bellzone’s projects in Guinea. When the company’s ability to finance its operations came into question, Bellzone looked to China Sonangol to provide an urgently needed £4 million (about US$6.4 million) short-term loan in August 2014. The loan was secured against the entirety of the company’s mineral assets in Guinea and, once finalized, would require Bellzone to transfer an unspecified asset from one of its subsidiaries to another. However, Bellzone suspended trading of its shares on September 21, 2014, as talks with China Sonangol over the loan facility stalled 270. Turmoil continued at Bellzone for several months after trading suspended. On September 5, 2014, Africa Mining Intelligence reported that Bellzone had entered into a “secret loan accord” with Panama-based PRVC S.A., a consulting firm headed by an Angolan businessman named Ezequiel da Cunha. The $860 million loan was not disclosed to the market, violating the rules of the London Stock Exchange 271.
In November 2014, China Sonangol negotiated a 51-percent stake in Bellzone and swiftly replaced the company’s board with its own 272.
By early December 2014, Bellzone had run into trouble with Guinean regulators. The Ministry of Mines warned the company that it had wrongfully dismissed local employees and failed to produce a plan for the safe transport of iron ore 273. Meanwhile, the government’s new technical committee charged with reviewing Guinea’s mining sector found that Bellzone had engaged in an unapproved transfer of one of its mining licenses to an affiliated company and, on a separate occasion, pledged to sell its mineral rights without approval 274.
In early March 2015, Bellzone and China Sonangol finalized the terms of a multiyear loan to finance the company’s operations in Guinea. When trading of Bellzone’s stock resumed on March 5, 2015—after a 5-month hiatus—the company’s share price jumped 587 percent in one day.
Queensway’s operations in Guinea reveal the lengths to which it would go to preserve its ill-gotten source of wealth from an illegitimate government even after its allies fell from power.
Guinea’s political transition has provided it a chance to become a rare success story among fragile states seeking to install effective systems for management of the extractive sector. At the same time, Guinea’s experience demonstrates the uphill battle that newly democratizing states face when seeking such reforms. Ultimately, Guinea’s ability to translate its mineral wealth into tangible development outcomes will depend on whether or not the government has the will and capacity to follow through with reforms.
J.R. Mailey Africa Center for Strategic Studies. Washington, D.C.
Notes 213. Paul Melly, Guinea: Situation Analysis and Outlook, Writenet Report (UK/Geneva: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2008), 3-11. 214. “Guinea Ministers Submit to Rebels,” BBC, December 26, 2008. 215. Victor Omoregie, “Guinea: Junta Warns Mining Sector,” Vanguard (Nigeria), December 29, 2008. 216. “Guinea bankrupted by junta – President Alpha Conde,” BBC, February 22, 2011. 217. Bloody Monday: The September 28 Massacre and Rapes by Security Forces in Guinea (New York: Human Rights Watch, December 2009), 7-8. “Guinea massacre toll put at 157,” BBC, September 29, 2009. 218. “CIF, Beijing’s stalking horse,” Africa-Asia Confidential 3, no. 7 (May 2010). 219. Murray et al. 220. Ibid. 221. Author interviews, April 2012 and May 2012. 222. Framework Agreement between the Republic of Guinea and China International Fund, June 2009. Copy on file with the author. 223. “Blood and money in the streets,” Africa-Asia Confidential 2, no. 12 (October 2009). 224. Framework Agreement between the Republic of Guinea and China International Fund, June 2009. 225. Ibid. 226. Africa-Asia Confidential (October 2009). 227. Ibid. 228. Importantly, CIF Singapore is wholly owned by China Sonangol International (S), which is, in turn, owned by a BVI shell company called Newtech Holdings Limited. 229. Shareholders Agreement between the Republic of Guinea and China International Fund, October 10, 2009. Copy on file with the author. 230. Africa-Asia Confidential (October 2009). 231. The Economist. 232. Murray et al. 233. Daniel Balint-Kurti, “Guinea: Bought by Beijing,” Chatham House, March 2, 2010. 234. Kabiné Komara, “Directives relatives aux amendements et à la renegociation du Pacte d’Actionnaires entre la République de Guinée, CIF Singapour, et China Sonangol International,” memorandum, December 2, 2009. Copy on file with the author. 235. Ibid. 236. Ibid. 237. Ibid. 238. Ibid. 239. Murray et al. 240. “Who’s Who: Abdoulaye Yéro Baldé,” Africa Mining Intelligence No. 223 (March 2010). 241. Saliou Samb “Guinea court reclaims Friguia from RUSAL,” Reuters, September 10, 2009. 242. Loan Agreement between CIF Singapore and Alex Stewart International, October 14, 2009. Copy on file with the author. 243. Murray et al. 244. Tom Burgis, “Behind the Wrangle for Guinea’s Minerals,” Financial Times, June 5, 2010. 245. “The junta rewards new friends,” Africa-Asia Confidential 3, no. 1 (November 2009). 246. Alpha Camara and Antony Sguazzin, “Guinea Asks Rusal to Return Friguia Alumina Complex,” Bloomberg, September 10, 2009. 247. The Economist. Murray et al. 248. Jesse Riseborough and Franz Wild, “Late Guinea President Wife Said to Assist Steinmetz Probe,” Bloomberg, April 19, 2013. 249. “Le Patron de la China international Fund chez le Premier ministre: des beaux jours qui s’annoncent pour les secteurs énergétique et minier guinéens,” Guinee 24, June 19, 2010. 250. Ibid. 251. Correspondence between the Central Bank of Guinea and China Sonangol indicates that the “Deposit Agreement” for the transfer of $45,000,000 to the Central Bank of Guinea was signed on November 24, 2009. Copy on file with the author. 252. Jack Cheung letter to Central Bank of Guinea dated July 21, 2010. Copy on file with the author. 253. Jack Cheung letter to Central Bank of Guinea dated July 27, 2010. Copy on file with the author. 254. “Minister Thiam covers his bases,” Africa Confidential 51, no. 14 (July 2010). 255. “Guinea Conakry’s leader visits new Luanda’s city centres,” Agência Angola Press, January 28, 2011. 256. “Binding MOU reached with China International Fund,” Bellzone Mining PLC press release, May 24, 2010. 257. Graham Fyfe, “Bellzone’s Guinea Projects” (presentation to the 82nd Minesite Mining Forum, London, United Kingdom, September 15, 2011). 258. “Kalia Rail and Port Infrastructure Update,” Bellzone Mining Plc press release, July 4, 2011. 259. “Forecariah Offtake Agreement with Glencore,” Bellzone Mining Plc press release, August 9, 2012. 260. Danny Fortson, “Chinese eye Rio’s African jewel,” The Sunday Times (UK), May 6, 2012. 261. Ibid. 262. “New Guinean Mining Code to Tackle Corruption,” Natural Resource Governance Institute, March 3, 2011. 263. Letter of Intent, Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies, and Technical Memorandum of Understanding from the Government of Guinea to the International Monetary Fund, dated June 30, 2011, 13. 264. Ibid. 265. Code Minier de la République de Guinée (Conakry: Ministère des mines et de la géologie, Septembre 9, 2011), 72-73. 266. Saliou Samb, “Guinea adopts new mining code boosting state share,” Reuters, September 10, 2011. 267. On February 15, 2013, the Technical Committee in charge of reviewing mining titles and contracts, Comité Technique de Revue des Titres et Conventions Miniers (CTRTCM), announced the official launch of its web site . 268. Emma Tarrant Tayou, “Training for Journalists Begins in Guinea,” Revenue Resource Governance Institute blog, November 26, 2012. 269. Boubacar Diallo, “Official: Guinea treasury chief assassinated,” Associated Press, November 10, 2012. 270. Tom Burgis, “Bellzone trading halted in fight over loan terms,” Financial Times, September 22, 2014. 271. “A secret loan accord for Bellzone Mining,” Africa Mining Intelligence No. 327 (September 2014). 272. “Chinese Directors Take The Top Jobs At Bellzone, Along With James Leahy,” Minesite, November 19, 2014. 273. “Government hits out at China International Fund,” Africa Mining Intelligence No. 334 (December 2014). 274. Ibid.