Ex-Guinea Minister Charged in Bribe-for-Mining-Rights Case

(Bloomberg) -- A former mining minister in Guinea was accused by U.S. prosecutors of laundering bribes he received as part of a scheme to help a Chinese company win "near total control" of the West African nation’s valuable mining sector.

Mahmoud Thiam, a U.S. citizen, was allegedly paid $8.5 million by an unidentified Chinese conglomerate, which was seeking exclusive rights to "a wide range of sectors of the Guinean economy" in addition to control of mining in the country. Thiam was mining minister in 2009 and 2010, federal prosecutors in New York said.

Thiam lied about his occupation and nationality to open an account in Hong Kong, which he used to transfer millions in bribe money, prosecutors said. He then moved it to an account in New York belonging to him and his wife, according to the U.S.

He also moved money from Hong Kong to a Malaysian company he used to hide the purchase of a $3.75 million, 30-acre estate in New York’s Dutchess County and tuition payments to private school for his children, according to a complaint by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He sent $560,000 to a foreign minister of a different West African nation, who was not named in the FBI complaint.

Claims, Counterclaims

At a bail hearing in Manhattan, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elisha Kobre said Thiam told authorities he had assets of only $30,000 despite an income of $1.2 million a year and a Manhattan apartment he rents for $24,000 a month. A judge ordered Thiam held without bail after finding he’s a risk to flee. Thiam’s lawyer, Andrew Solomon, declined to comment outside court.

Thiam, a former UBS Group AG vice president in New York, recently ventured into a battle of accusations and counterclaims about mining deals in Guinea. 

Thiam told Bloomberg in an interview last month that a Rio Tinto Group executive had offered to pay him off to gain access to another project, an allegation the executive denied. Rio Tinto itself is investigating payments made to a consultant in the country and declined to comment in relation to Thiam.

In a racketeering case last year, Rio Tinto accused Beny Steinmetz’s BSG Resources Ltd. of paying Thiam a $200 million bribe to secure its rights to a huge iron ore deposit in Guinea’s Simandou region. Thiam denied the allegation, saying it was “borderline comical.” BSGR has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

A federal judge in New York judged dismissed the case, saying that Rio Tinto had waited too long to sue and had failed to identify a pattern of racketeering activity by the defendants.

The case is U.S. v. Thiam, 16-mg-07960, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).