Ex-Banker Gets 7 Years in Prison for Taking Bribes While African Minister

  • Mahmoud Thiam convicted of laundering $8.5 million in bribes
  • Former Merrill Lynch, UBS banker sold Guinea mining rights

A Guinea-born former Wall Street banker was sentenced to seven years in prison for laundering $8.5 million in bribes that he took while a government minister in the West African country.

Mahmoud Thiam was convicted in May of taking illegal payments to help China International Fund Ltd. win exclusive rights to mine Guinea’s iron, gold, diamonds and bauxite deposits and then laundering the money into the U.S. Thiam served as Guinea’s mining minister from 2009 to 2010 after spending 14 years as an international investment banker at Merrill Lynch & Co. and UBS Group AG in New York.

"I sense no acknowledgment of the deep injury he has done to Guinea and to the rule of law," U.S. District Judge Denise Cote said in sentencing Thiam to two years more than the five Thiam’s lawyer requested.

Prosecutors sought a sentence of more than 12 1/2 years. In addition to the prison time, Cote ordered Thiam to forfeit the $8.5 million. Thiam has been in custody since his arrest in December. He didn’t give a statement during the hour-long hearing.

Mining Rights

Thiam’s position allowed him to influence mining rights in mineral-rich Guinea, where claims of corruption and disputes about mineral rights involve some of the biggest mining companies in the world.

Prosecutors told jurors that Thiam used the bribes to pay for luxuries, including ski lessons, private school for his kids, a Steinway grand piano and renovations to a 30-acre estate in New York’s Dutchess County. Thiam, who testified in his own defense, said the money was a loan from China International Fund’s Sam Pa, not a bribe.

Bribery allegations have swirled over mineral development in Guinea for years. Rio Tinto Group accused billionaire Beny Steinmetz’s BSG Resources Ltd. of conspiring with Vale SA to steal the rights to an iron ore deposit in the country. That lawsuit was thrown out.

Steinmetz’s companies sued billionaire George Soros for $10 billion earlier this year, claiming they lost the right to mine the Guinea resource because of a defamation campaign he ran against them.

The case is U.S. v. Thiam, 17-cr-00047, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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