Arrest of Ex-Guinean Minister in U.S. Mirrors Liberia Sable Mining Bribery Saga


Monrovia – In a case reminiscent of the ongoing Sable Mining bribery saga in Liberia, a New York court on Friday sentenced Mr. Mahmoud Thiam, 50, a former minister of mines and geology of the Republic of Guinea to seven years in jail and ordered to pay back $8.5 million for laundering bribes from a Chinese conglomerate in exchange for mining rights in Guinea.

The case is drawing similarities to Liberia where a grand jury recently indicted government officials, including the former speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Alex J. Tyler, and the former head of the ruling party, Cllr. H. Varney G. Sherman, along with London AIM-listed Sable Mining SBLM.L on charges including bribery.

The officials were accused of receiving payments from the South African company, Sable in an attempt to acquire an iron ore concession in northern Liberia based on an explosive report by the London-based watchdog group, Global Witness.

The Liberia indictment alleged that the defendants conspired to use their positions to amend Liberia’s public procurement and concessions law.

It asserted that they succeeded in changing the law to give the Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy the power to declare a concession area as a non-bidding area.

In its report Global Witness claimed that the amendment was intended to allow the company to win the concession without a tender.

In the end however, Sable Mining was not awarded the property, known as Wologizi.

The indictment named as defendants Sable Mining, parliament speaker Alex Tyler, Varney Sherman, a senator and chairman of President Johnson Sirleaf’s Unity Party, and Deputy Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy Ernest C.B. Jones, as well as Christopher Onanuga, a Liberian businessman.

In the case involving the Guinea former Minister, Mr. Thiam will spend three of the seven years under 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 Blanco of the Department of Justice Criminal Division said in a statement that Mr. 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”.

Blanco’s warning has been reinforced by Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim of the Southern District of New York, who also declared that Thiam’s sentencing shows that if officials fleeing with wealth from Africa or any part of the world take their proceeds to New York, whether from drug dealing, tax evasion or international bribery, they may very well find themselves at the front end of long federal prison term.

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.

Thiam, 50, was convicted on May 3 of money laundering but was sentenced today, Friday by Judge Denise Cote, more than three months after he was convicted. Judge Cote announced the conviction in a Manhattan federal courtroom.

Court docket and judicial analysts say Thiam, a US citizen, who was minister of mines and geology in Guinea from 2009-2010 had faced a maximum sentence of 15 years.

Prosecutors say, Thiam who was arraigned in December 2016, took millions of dollars in bribes from senior representatives of a Chinese conglomerate to facilitate mining rights while serving as a cabinet minister.

Thiam then concealed the bribes in a Hong Kong bank account before transferring the money to the United States, where he bought a lavish $3.75 million estate in Dutchess County, New York and sent his children to private school.

Since 2013, federal authorities in Manhattan began investigating far-reaching allegations of corruption in Guinea’s resource sector relating to financial transfers through the US or activity on U.S. soil.

In Liberia, the Sable bribery saga has been on hold for a while.

FrontPageAfrica recently reported that the Supreme Court should have heard an appeal from Sherman at the end of August but the three of the justices who have been pushing for the appeal to be put on the docket –Kabineh Ja’ Neh, Jamesetta Howard-Wollokollie and his Honor Philips A.Z. Banks – were recently targeted for impeachment, putting the fate of the case in limbo.