NEW YORK, May 2 (Reuters) - A former Guinea government
minister accused of laundering $8.5 million in bribes he took in
exchange for helping a Chinese conglomerate secure mining rights
told jurors in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday that the money
was a personal loan.
Mahmoud Thiam, taking the stand near the end of a week-long
trial, said Chinese tycoon Sam Pa was a friend who lent him the
money to help him take care of his family in New York while he
moved to his native Guinea to serve as minister of mines in
Thiam, 50, a U.S. citizen, has pleaded not guilty to money
laundering in one of several corruption cases around the world
tied to Guinea's mining sector.
Thiam testified that there was no written agreement,
interest or repayment terms for the loan with Pa, and that he
never repaid it. He said his relationship with Pa had since
He denied the money was a bribe to help a joint venture of
the China International Fund and China Sonangol, both closely
tied to Pa, obtain lucrative mining rights in Guinea in 2009, as
prosecutors allege. Pa is not charged in the case.
Thiam also admitted during both direct and cross-examination
that he lied repeatedly to banks, concealing the source of the
money and the fact that he was a government minister.
But he denied prosecutors' allegations that he was lying to
conceal bribes, violating money-laundering laws.
He said he lied to avoid being designated a "politically
exposed person," or foreign official susceptible to bribery,
because banks often close such people's accounts as a
"My primary concern was to be treated as Mahmoud Thiam,
private citizen," he said.
After Thiam finished testifying, lawyers delivered their
closing arguments. Thiam's lawyer, Aaron Goldsmith, told jurors
that prosecutors had offered no solid evidence the money was a
"Mahmoud got money from Sam Pa," he said. "Mahmoud lied
about his work. That's about all the evidence you've got in this
case, related to those charges."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Elisha Kobre told jurors there was a
"mountain of evidence" showing the payment was a bribe.
Thiam lied to banks not only about his role as a government
minister, but about the source of the money, saying it was from
consulting fees or land sales, Kobre said.
"Why all the lies?" he said.
Jurors are expected to start deliberating tomorrow.
(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Peter