Ex-Guinea minister charged with
laundering bribes goes to trial
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[April 25, 2017]
By Brendan Pierson
(Reuters) - A former government minister in
Guinea went to trial in New York on Monday on U.S. charges that he
laundered $8.5 million in bribes he took in exchange for helping a
Chinese company secure valuable mining rights.
In an opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lorinda Laryea told
jurors in Manhattan federal court that Mahmoud Thiam, a U.S. citizen,
used the money to fund a "lavish lifestyle" including a mansion and
private schools for his children in New York.
Thiam, 50, has pleaded not guilty to money laundering. His lawyer, Aaron
Goldsmith, told jurors Monday that prosecutors did not have the evidence
to prove he took bribes.
Thiam was living in New York and working as an investment banker before
returning to his native Guinea to serve as minister of mines in 2009 and
2010, overseeing the West African country's valuable mineral reserves,
Laryea told jurors.
Laryea said that Thiam helped negotiate a 2009 deal giving the company
valuable exclusive mining rights in Guinea in exchange for payments from
the company's executives.
"Instead of honestly serving the people of Guinea, he used his
government position to line his pockets," Laryea said.
Thiam later returned to New York and transferred the money he received
to bank accounts there while trying to conceal its source, violating
U.S. anti-money laundering law, Laryea said.
Laryea told jurors that the government would present testimony from
Guinean government officials and bank employees, bank records and emails
to prove the scheme.
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Goldsmith did not dispute that Thiam received money, but said the
government would not be able to prove that it was a bribe.
"They don't have a witness for that," he said. "They cannot connect
The Chinese company was not named in opening arguments or court
papers, but the deal in the case matches the description of an
agreement reached in 2009 involving a joint venture majority owned
by China International Fund and China Sonangol.
Thiam's case is one of several corruption cases tied to Guinea's
Only days after Thiam's arrest in December, Israeli billionaire Beny
Steinmetz was put under house arrest by Israeli authorities on
charges that he bribed officials in Guinea to secure mining rights
for his company, BSG Resources.
The case is U.S. v. Thiam, U.S. District Court, Southern District of
New York, No. 17-cr-47.
(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Bill Trott)
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