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US to African Looters: You Can’t Go Scot Free Anymore



The United States of America (USA) has sent a warning to corrupt African political office holders, who illegally enrich themselves at the expense of their poor people, that they would no longer go scot free. They will be investigated, held accountable and punished.


The warning was given by US Department of Justice after a New York court jailed Mahmoud Thiam, 50, a former minister of mines and geology of Guinea, who was living big in America on the bribe he collected from a Chinese company.


He was jailed seven years. He will spend three of the years under supervised release, for laundering bribes paid to him by executives of China Sonangol International Ltd. (China Sonangol) and China International Fund, SA (CIF).

“Today’s sentence sends a strong message to corrupt individuals like Thiam that if they attempt to use the U.S. financial system to hide their bribe money they will be investigated, held accountable, and punished,” the Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco of the Department of Justice Criminal Division said in a statement.


“Mahmoud Thiam engaged in a corrupt scheme to benefit himself at the expense of the people of Guinea,” said Blanco.


“Corruption is a cancer on society that destabilises institutions, inhibits fair and free competition, and imposes significant burdens on ordinary law-abiding people just trying to live their everyday lives”, he added.


The warning was reinforced by Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H.Kim of the Southern District of New York, who said:”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 long federal prison term.”


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Thiam’s sentencing by U.S. District Judge Denise L. Cote of the Southern District of New York was announced by Blanco Kim, Assistant Director Stephen E. Richardson of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division and Assistant Director in Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. of the FBI’s New York Field Office.


Thiam was convicted on May 3, after a seven-day trial of one count of transacting in criminally derived property and one count of money laundering.


“As a unanimous jury found at trial, Thiam abused his position as Guinea’s Minister of Mines to take millions in bribes from a Chinese conglomerate, and then launder that money through the American financial system,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Kim.


“Enriching himself at the expense of one Africa’s poorest countries, Thiam used some of the Chinese bribe money to pay his children’s Manhattan private school tuition and to buy a $3.75 million estate in Dutchess County”, Kim added.

“Thiam abused his official position, but the outcome shows that no one is above the law,” said Assistant Director Stephen E. Richardson.


“The FBI will not stand by while individuals attempt to live by their own rules and use the United States as a safe haven for their ill-gotten gains. I would like to applaud the dedicated investigators and prosecutors who have worked to hold those who have committed these crimes accountable for their illegal actions.”


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According to evidence presented at trial, China Sonangol, CIF and their subsidiaries signed a series of agreements with Guinea that gave them lucrative mining rights in Guinea.


In exchange for bribes paid by executives of China Sonangol and CIF, Thiam used his position as Minister to influence the Guinean government’s decision to enter into those agreements while serving from 2009 to 2010.  The evidence further showed that Thiam participated in a scheme to launder the bribe payments from 2009 to 2011, during which time China Sonangol and CIF paid him $8.5 million through a bank account in Hong Kong.


Thiam then transferred approximately $3.9 million to bank accounts in the U.S. and used the money to pay for luxury goods and other expenses.


The FBI’s International Corruption Squads in New York City and Los Angeles investigated the case.  Trial Attorney Lorinda Laryea of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Elisha Kobre and Christopher DiMase of the Southern District of New York prosecuted the case.  Fraud Section Assistant Chief Tarek Helou and Trial Attorney Sarah Edwards, and Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section Senior Trial Attorney Stephen Parker previously investigated the case.  The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs also provided substantial assistance in this matter.