April 24 (Reuters) - A former government minister in Guinea
went to trial in New York on Monday on U.S. charges that he
laundered $8.5 million in bribes he took in exchange for helping
a Chinese company secure valuable mining rights.
In an opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lorinda
Laryea told jurors in Manhattan federal court that Mahmoud
Thiam, a U.S. citizen, used the money to fund a "lavish
lifestyle" including a mansion and private schools for his
children in New York.
Thiam, 50, has pleaded not guilty to money laundering. His
lawyer, Aaron Goldsmith, told jurors Monday that prosecutors did
not have the evidence to prove he took bribes.
Thiam was living in New York and working as an investment
banker before returning to his native Guinea to serve as
minister of mines in 2009 and 2010, overseeing the West African
country's valuable mineral reserves, Laryea told jurors.
Laryea said that Thiam helped negotiate a 2009 deal giving
the company valuable exclusive mining rights in Guinea in
exchange for payments from the company's executives.
"Instead of honestly serving the people of Guinea, he used
his government position to line his pockets," Laryea said.
Thiam later returned to New York and transferred the money
he received to bank accounts there while trying to conceal its
source, violating U.S. anti-money laundering law, Laryea said.
Laryea told jurors that the government would present
testimony from Guinean government officials and bank employees,
bank records and emails to prove the scheme.
Goldsmith did not dispute that Thiam received money, but
said the government would not be able to prove that it was a
"They don't have a witness for that," he said. "They cannot
connect those dots."
The Chinese company was not named in opening arguments or
court papers, but the deal in the case matches the description
of an agreement reached in 2009 involving a joint venture
majority owned by China International Fund and China Sonangol.
Thiam's case is one of several corruption cases tied to
Guinea's mining sector.
Only days after Thiam's arrest in December, Israeli
billionaire Beny Steinmetz was put under house arrest by Israeli
authorities on charges that he bribed officials in Guinea to
secure mining rights for his company, BSG Resources.
The case is U.S. v. Thiam, U.S. District Court, Southern
District of New York, No. 17-cr-47.
(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Bill