(Adds details from court hearing, background on Mahmoud Thiam)
By Nate Raymond
NEW YORK Dec 13 A former minister of mines in
Guinea was arrested on Tuesday on U.S. charges that he laundered
bribe payments he had accepted to help award a Chinese
conglomerate valuable rights, including near control of the West
African country's mining sector.
Mahmoud Thiam, a U.S. citizen who served as Guinea's
minister of mines from 2009 to 2010, was accused in a criminal
complaint filed in Manhattan federal court of accepting about
$8.5 million from the Chinese conglomerate.
The complaint said Thiam used that money to, among other
things, reimburse an associate who helped him buy a 30-acre,
$3.75 million estate in New York state, enroll his children in
private schools and pay $46,375 to a piano company.
Thiam, 50, was arrested at his apartment in Manhattan,
prosecutors said. U.S. Magistrate Judge James Francis later
denied Thiam bail, after a prosecutor called him a flight risk.
"The defendant cannot be trusted to appear in court,"
Assistant U.S. Attorney Elisha Kobre said in court.
Andrew Solomon, Thiam's lawyer, declined to comment. But in
court, he called the conduct at issue "quite ancient," and
questioned why Thiam would have disclosed those bank accounts to
the court when there was no evidence he had money in them.
"There's nothing here other than a lot of smoke," Solomon
The Chinese conglomerate was not named in court papers, but
a key deal in the case matched the description of an agreement
reached in 2009 involving a joint venture majority owned by
China International Fund and China Sonangol.
China International did not respond to an email seeking
comment. China Sonangol could not be immediately reached. Both
companies during the period in question had the same address in
The complaint said that Thiam had helped the unnamed Chinese
conglomerate receive valuable rights in a wide range of sectors
in Guinea's economy, including near control of the country's
He received $8.5 million from its senior executives and
officers, the complaint said, money that was deposited into a
Hong Kong bank account that Thiam established by concealing his
nationality and position as a public official.
In court, Kobre contended Thiam was not being candid about
his assets when detailing them to court officials, claiming to
only have $30,000 in assets despite a $1.2 million annual income
and holding multiple accounts and companies worldwide.
Solomon denied that Thiam was trying to conceal anything,
however, saying he had long had problems with the U.S. Internal
Revenue Service, which property records show has taken out
millions of dollars in liens on his apartment.
The case is U.S. v. Thiam, U.S. District Court, Southern
District of New York, No. 16-mj-7960.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; editing by Bill Trott,