By Chibuike Nwabuko
Abuja (Sundiata Post) – United States through the Acting Assistant Attorney General, Kenneth Blanco of the Department of Justice Criminal Division has sent a strong message to African political office holders that anyone who uses the U.S. financial system to hide ill-gotten wealth will be investigated, held accountable, and punished,
The warning came after a New York court jailed Mahmoud Thiam, a 50-year-old former Minister of Mines and Geology of the Republic of Guinea, who was living big in the US on the bribe he collected from a Chinese company. He was jailed seven years. He will spend three of the years under supervised release for laundering bribes paid to him by executives of China Sonangol International Limited (China Sonangol) and China International Fund, SA (CIF).
“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,” according to Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco of the Department of Justice Criminal Division.
“Mahmoud Thiam engaged in a corrupt scheme to benefit himself at the expense of the people of Guinea,” said Blanco.
“Corruption is a cancer on society that destabilises institutions, inhibits fair and free competition, and imposes significant burdens on ordinary law-abiding people just trying to live their everyday lives,” he added.
The warning was reinforced by Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H.Kim of the Southern District of New York, who also declared:
“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,” Kim said.
Thiam’s sentencing by U.S. District Judge Denise L. Cote of the Southern District of New York was announced by Blanco, Kim, 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.
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.
“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 of 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,” Kim added.
“Thiam abused his official position, but the outcome shows that no one is above the law,” said 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 Sweeney Jr.
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 the countryeeee.
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.
The Fraud Section is responsible for investigating and prosecuting all matters relating to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”). Additional information about the Justice Department’s FCPA enforcement efforts can be found at (News Express)