MANHATTAN (CN) — Former Guinean official Mahmoud Thiam abused his position in the nation’s mining industry to launder $8.5 million in bribes from a Chinese conglomerate, a U.S. jury found on Wednesday.
Thiam, a 50-year-old U.S. citizen with a $3.75-million estate in New York’s Dutchess County, served as Guinea’s minister of mines and geology between 2009 and 2010.
Prosecutors noted that Thiam attained that position shortly after a military junta seized power during the “Christmas coup” in 2008, hoping to tap into the republic’s vast reserves of bauxite, iron ore and gold.
“Despite its great mineral wealth, the Republic of Guinea is among the poorest countries in Africa, in part as a result of corruption by public officials in the granting of mining and other concessions,” FBI agent Christopher Martinez noted in a criminal complaint on Dec. 12, 2016.
Reuters identified the Chinese conglomerates at the heart of the case as a joint venture of the China International Fund and China Sonangol, both of which are tied to Chinese tycoon Sam Pa.
In return for the bribe money, Thiam handed over much of Guinea’s mining industry to the conglomerates, according to the criminal complaint.
Prosecutors say that Thiam laundered Pa’s bribe money through a Hong Kong bank, concealing his status as a Guinean minister.
Thiam then funneled the money to a Malaysian company that helped him purchase his New York estate, pay tuition for his children’s prep schools, and line the pockets of another West African official.
“Mr. Thiam maintains his innocence,” Thiam’s attorney, Aaron Goldsmith, said in an email. “We are disappointed in the verdict and believe that the jury was unduly influenced by the government’s emphasis of the value of money rather than being able to focus on the lack of evidence of the underlying allegations of bribery.”
But Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco said in a statement that the verdict showed Thiam “sold out his country and then used U.S. banks and real estate to hide millions in bribes paid to him by a Chinese conglomerate.”
“Corruption is a global disease that undermines the rule of law everywhere,” Blanco added.
At his sentencing on Aug. 11, Thiam will face a possible 30-year sentence for two counts of money laundering.