Former Minister of Mines Mahmoud Thiam once famously said that “every crook on Earth” lands in Conakry.
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.