New York––– Mahmoud Thiam, a former Guinean cabinet minister was sentenced to seven years in a US prison Friday and ordered to pay back $8.5 million for laundering bribes from a Chinese conglomerate in exchange for mining rights.
Thiam, 50, was convicted on May 3 of money laundering but was sentenced today, Friday by Judge Denise Cote, more than three months after he was convicted. Judge Cote announced the conviction in a Manhattan federal courtroom.
Court docket and judicial analysts say Thiam, a US citizen, who was minister of mines and geology in Guinea from 2009-2010 had faced a maximum sentence of 15 years.
Prosecutors say, Thiam who was arraigned in December 2016, took millions of dollars in bribes from senior representatives of a Chinese conglomerate to facilitate mining rights while serving as a cabinet minister.
Thiam then concealed the bribes in a Hong Kong bank account before transferring the money to the United States, where he bought a lavish $3.75 million estate in Dutchess County, New York and sent his children to private school.
Joon Kim, the acting Manhattan US attorney accused the defendant of “enriching himself at the expense of one of Africa’s poorest countries.”
“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 a long federal prison term,” Kim said.
Since 2013, federal authorities in Manhattan began investigating far-reaching allegations of corruption in Guinea’s resource sector relating to financial transfers through the US or activity on US soil.
Friday’s statement did not call out the Chinese conglomerate implicated but news reports maintained that Thiam was suspected of dealing with a joint venture implicating the China International Fund, a Hong Kong investment organization sometimes referred to as the 88 Queensway Group.
China is a key trading partner with several countries in Africa, where it is willing to tap into the continent’s mineral and energy resources to help nurture its fast-paced economic growth.
Thiam, a one-time former UBS banker, had worked as an asset manager in Manhattan after stepping down as Guinea’s mining minister.
White collar legal analysts and private security exchange specialists say Thiam’s sentence could be the beginning of a nightmare for several African bureaucrats and politicians who have stolen tremendous amount of wealth from countries in Africa, leaving their poor people in abject poverty.
Some of the countries white collar investigators are monitoring include Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Liberia, Senegal, Kenya, South Sudan among others.
Sources say several West African officials with US citizenship have accumulated significant amount of wealth while serving in governments in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Guinea, Togo, and The Gambia, yet refused to pay federal taxes as US citizens or residents.
Investigators say a dozen Liberian and Sierra Leonean officials with US citizenship have wired funds into European, Asian, Middle Eastern and other African banks over the past decade.
Globe Afrique along with a New York-based international security firm are compiling list of West African officials, past and present, with US citizenship or residency, who have not pay US federal taxes in the last ten years. Some of the names that came up include former Sierra Leone’s vice president, Sam Sumana who previously lived in Minnesota, former managing director of the National Port Authority in Liberia, Matilda Parker amongst others.
Knowingly declining to file a tax return, or refusal to pay what is owed after filing a return, can be a criminal violation of the law commonly referred to as “tax evasion.”
Failure to pay taxes or file a return is itself a crime. However, the IRS would rather work with you and reach a settlement before seeking criminal charges. If one derives his or her income from illegal sources, it is more likely that the IRS will recommend prosecution (and further investigation into illegally obtained income could also result in fraud or racketeering charges). The more blatantly fraudulent one behavior has been, the more likely the IRS is to prosecute them. For example, a person would likely be prosecuted for failing to file returns year after year.
To convict a person of a tax crime, the IRS does not have to prove the exact amount he or she owes.
The special agent in charge of an investigation will work closely with IRS legal counsel to ensure it is following protocol and properly identifying the legal issues involved. Finally, the IRS will refer the case to the Justice Department’s Tax Division.