March 10 (Bloomberg) -- A French citizen with ties to billionaire Beny Steinmetz and his BSG Resources Ltd. pleaded guilty to interfering in a U.S. grand jury probe of bribes allegedly paid to win mining rights in Guinea.
Frederic Cilins, 51, entered his plea to a single count of obstructing a government investigation in a hearing today in Manhattan federal court. Cilins’s plea agreement with the government doesn’t require him to cooperate in its investigation, making it unlikely he will implicate any others in the case.
Prosecutors had charged Cilins with trying to pay Mamadie Toure, the fourth wife of Guinea’s late President Lansana Conte, to lie to investigators and to turn over documents for Cilins to destroy.
Prosecutors claimed Cilins has a “very close personal relationship” with Steinmetz, who controls BSGR and is Israel’s wealthiest person. 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.
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, according to the government.
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 region.
“No one at BSGR has done anything wrong,” said Davidson Goldin, a New York-based spokesman for the company.
Toure’s lawyer, Mary Mulligan, a partner with the New York firm Friedman Kaplan Seiler & Adelman LLP, declined to comment on the Cilins plea.
Cilins faces as long as five years in prison when he’s sentenced June 27. Lawyers for Cilins and the government agreed that federal sentencing guidelines, which aren’t binding on the judge, call for Cilins to get from 37 to 46 months in prison.
Cilins originally was charged with witness tampering, obstructing a criminal investigation and destruction of evidence. The witness-tampering and evidence-destruction charges carry maximum prison terms of 20 years.
He has been held in U.S. custody without bail since U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III ruled in July that he presents “a serious risk of flight.” Cilins’s guilty plea avoids a trial that was scheduled for March 31.
The case is U.S. v. Cilins, 13-cr-00315, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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