US jails ex-Guinea min­is­ter to 7 years in prison over bribes

Thiam, also a US cit­i­zen, con­victed for laun­der­ing $8.5 mil­lion in bribes that US pros­e­cu­tors say he took in exchange for help­ing a Chi­nese firm se­cure min­ing rights

The Star (Kenya) - - News World -

REUTERS/ A for­mer Guinea gov­ern­ment min­is­ter was sen­tenced to seven years in prison on Fri­day fol­low­ing his con­vic­tion of laun­der­ing $8.5 mil­lion in bribes that US pros­e­cu­tors say he took in exchange for help­ing a Chi­nese con­glom­er­ate se­cure min­ing rights.

The sen­tence, as im­posed by US Dis­trict Judge Denise Cote in Man­hat­tan fed­eral court, was less se­vere than the more than 10 years sug­gested by fed­eral guide­lines.

Cote said she had con­sid­ered the good that Mah­moud Thiam, a US cit­i­zen, had done for his na­tive coun­try when he returned there to take the gov­ern­ment job in 2009.

“I find he went to Guinea to help, not to rob it,” the judge said. “I find he did help in many ways. “He saw cor­rup­tion all around him, and de­cided ul­ti­mately to suc­cumb to cor­rup­tion,” she said.

Thiam’s lawyer, Aaron Gold­smith, said after the sen­tenc­ing that he would ap­peal the con­vic­tion.

He added that the sen­tence was “bet­ter than we feared, not as good as we hoped.”

‘LACK OF EV­I­DENCE’

“We feel very strongly that there is a lack of ev­i­dence suf­fi­cient to prove Mr Thiam’s in­tent to ac­cept the pay­ment as a bribe,” Gold­smith said.

Thiam, 50, was con­victed by a jury in May of one count of money laun­der­ing and one count of en­gag­ing in trans­ac­tions in prop­erty with a crim­i­nal source.

The case is one of sev­eral cor­rup­tion cases around the world tied to Guinea’s min­ing sec­tor.

PROOF OF GUILT

Pros­e­cu­tors sought to prove that Thiam took bribes from Chi­nese ty­coon Sam Pa.

In exchange, Thiam helped se­cure lu­cra­tive min­ing rights in Guinea for a joint ven­ture of the China In­ter­na­tional Fund and China So­nan­gol, closely tied to Pa, they added.

The pros­e­cu­tors pre­sented bank records showing that Thiam opened a bank ac­count in Hong Kong to re­ceive the money and later wired it to the United States.

They said Thiam used the money to fund a lav­ish life­style, in­clud­ing a man­sion north of New York City and pri­vate schools for his chil­dren.

PER­SONAL LOAN

Thiam, who worked as an in­vest­ment banker in New York be­fore mov­ing to Guinea, ad­mit­ted on the wit­ness stand that he had taken money from Pa, but said it was a per­sonal loan.

Thiam also ad­mit­ted that he lied re­peat­edly to banks about the source of the money and con­cealed the fact that he was a gov­ern­ment min­is­ter in Guinea.

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