US jails ex-Guinea minister over China bribes
New York - A former Guinean cabinet minister was sentenced to seven years in a US prison on Friday and ordered to pay back $8.5m for laundering bribes from a Chinese conglomerate in exchange for mining rights.
Mahmoud Thiam, 50, learned his fate in a Manhattan federal courtroom from Judge Denise Cote, more than three months after he was convicted on May 3 of money laundering.
Thiam, who was minister of mines and geology in Guinea from 2009-10 and is a US citizen, had faced a maximum sentence of 15 years.
Arrested in December 2016, prosecutors say he took millions of dollars in bribes from senior representatives of the Chinese conglomerate to facilitate mining rights while serving as a cabinet minister.
Thiam was found to have concealed the bribes in a Hong Kong bank account before transferring the money to the United States, where he bought a lavish $3.75m estate in Dutchess County, New York and sent his children to private school.
Acting Manhattan US attorney Joon Kim accused the defendant of "enriching himself at the expense of one of Africa's poorest countries."
"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 a long federal prison term," Kim said.
China has become a key trade partner with many nations in Africa, where it is eager to tap into the continent's mineral and energy resources to help feed its fast-paced economic growth.
As far back as 2013, federal authorities in Manhattan began investigating far-reaching allegations of corruption in Guinea's resource sector involving financial transfers through the US or activity on US soil.
Friday's statement did not name the Chinese conglomerate involved but news reports have said Thiam was accused of dealing with a joint venture involving the China International Fund, a Hong Kong investment organization sometimes referred to as the 88 Queensway Group.
A former UBS banker, Thiam had worked as an asset manager in Manhattan after stepping down from as Guinea's mining minister.