Sept. 13 (Bloomberg) -- A French citizen with ties to BSG Resources Ltd. claims that contracts that had been sought by a federal grand jury probing allegations of bribes paid to secure mining rights in Guinea are forgeries.
A lawyer for Frederic Cilins argued that his client should be allowed to conduct testing on the original contracts as part of his defense against U.S. charges that he interfered with the investigation by attempting to destroy them and trying to persuade a witness to lie.
Cilins is charged with offering money to Mamadie Toure, whom prosecutors claim was the fourth wife of Guinea’s late President Lansana Conte, to lie to U.S. investigators about the alleged bribery scheme and to give him original contracts sought by the grand jury so he could destroy them. Prosecutors said they have recordings of meetings and phone calls between Cilins and Toure, who is cooperating with the investigation.
Cilins has a “very close personal relationship” with Beny Steinmetz, who controls BSGR and is Israel’s wealthiest person, a U.S. prosecutor claimed in April. The U.S. said Cilins was negotiating with Toure on behalf of BSGR and Steinmetz when he was arrested April 14 at the airport in Jacksonville, Florida.
Cilins claims the contracts are fake and that he met with Toure to try to prevent her from extorting money from him and BSGR. He has pleaded not guilty.
“We’re entitled to show she lied to the defendant” about the contracts, Cilins’s lawyer, William J. Schwartz, argued yesterday in a hearing before U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley in Manhattan.
Separately, Steinmetz agreed to be interviewed by Swiss authorities about the Guinean mining concession, according to a person familiar with the matter. Steinmetz will meet with the office of Geneva’s public prosecutor in the next four weeks, according to the person, who was briefed on the matter and asked not to be identified because the investigation is confidential.
Steinmetz is cooperating with Swiss authorities, his lawyer, Marc Bonnant, said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. Steinmetz has denied any wrongdoing in obtaining mining rights in Guinea.
Steinmetz’s Geneva home was raided two weeks ago by Swiss police, acting at the request of Guinea’s government, a person familiar with the matter said Sept. 11.
Stephen Spiegelhalter, a Justice Department lawyer, told Pauley yesterday that the U.S. has obtained the original contracts from the government of Guinea. Cilins’s lawyers were permitted to view the originals in the offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, he said.
Spiegelhalter argued that Cilins shouldn’t be permitted to test the documents and should be barred from defending himself by arguing they’re not genuine, calling the issue “a sideshow.” Regardless whether the contracts are real, they were subpoenaed by the grand jury and Cilins tried to have them destroyed, he argued.
Pauley didn’t immediately rule on the requests from both sides relating to the contracts.
According to the government, since about January 2013 the grand jury in New York has been investigating possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and criminal money-laundering in connection with money intended to be used to bribe officials of Guinea’s government for an iron-mining concession in the country’s Simandou region.
Cilins is being held in U.S. custody without bail after Pauley ruled in July that he presents “a serious risk of flight.” Pauley scheduled a trial for Dec. 2. He said yesterday that he’s open to pushing the trial back to February 2014 if necessary.
Cilins is charged with witness tampering, obstructing a criminal investigation and destruction of evidence in a federal investigation. The witness-tampering and record-destruction charges carry maximum prison terms of 20 years.
Cilins said he worked in 2005 and 2006 for BSGR as a go-between with Guinea in the company’s efforts to secure mining rights in the Simandou region.
The case is U.S. v. Cilins, 13-cr-00315, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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