The former minister of mines and geology for the African Republic of Guinea was arrested on Tuesday in New York and charged with taking $8.5m in bribes in exchange for assigning lucrative investment rights to a Chinese-owned conglomerate.
Mahmoud Thiam, an American citizen, was arrested at his home in Manhattan and was expected to appear in court later in the day.
Mr Thiam, a former UBS banker, was the minister of mines from early 2009 until late 2010. US authorities allege in a criminal complaint unsealed on Tuesday that Mr Thiam used bank accounts he opened in Hong Kong to allegedly launder the money back to the US to buy a $3.75m property in Dutchess County, New York state, and to pay for private schools for his children.
The charges investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and filed by the US attorney’s office in Manhattan are the latest allegations of bribery in the mineral-rich west African nation.
Frederic Cilins, a French citizen, pleaded guilty to obstructing a federal investigation into alleged bribe payments in Guinea in 2014 by paying a witness to destroy key documents. Mr Cilins was sentenced to two years in prison.
Competitors from Rio Tinto to Beny Steinmetz Group flocked to Guinea to try to wrest rights to the country’s rich mountain assets.
According to authorities Mr Thiam travelled to Hong Kong and China in the summer of 2009 to meet the head of the Chinese conglomerate and strike a memorandum of understanding to create a joint venture with the African nation.
While there in September, Mr Thiam opened a bank account. The following day, September 25, authorities allege a $3m transfer was deposited in Mr Thiam’s account from an executive of the Chinese conglomerate.
Under the shareholder agreement, which was finalised on October 10, 2009, the Chinese company would own 85 per cent of the newly-created company, Africa Development Corporation. Guinea would own 15 per cent.
US authorities allege another two payments of $3m and $2m were made into Mr Thiam’s account in 2010. Mr Thiam allegedly transferred the money to the US through US bank accounts and offshore shell companies. He used some of the money to buy the property, pay for his children’s schooling, and pay off other African officials, according to the complaint.
Mr Thiam also allegedly provided misleading information to US banks and the Internal Revenue Service to conceal the bribe payments.
The criminal complaint does not reveal the name of the Chinese conglomerate.
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