FBI break up plot to grab West African minerals in corruption bust
(GIN) — The FBI this week nabbed the French crony of a billionaire mining executive who claims to hold title to one of the world’s richest mineral deposits in Guinea, West Africa.
The crony had been plotting to destroy key evidence in the mineral claim, according to wiretaps obtained by the agency.
The sting operation puts in jeopardy plans by Beny Steinmetz, an Israeli diamond tycoon worth $6 billion according to Forbes magazine, to extract valuable iron ore at a fraction of the price he paid for it. The iron ore is valued at $10 billion and Steinmetz had paid a mere $165 million to develop the mine.
But the plot takes a twist when it turns out that the crony, Frederic Cilins, arrested in Jacksonville, Florida, had been dealing with Mamadie Toure, widow of Lansana Conté, the dictator who ruled Guinea for 24 years until his death in 2008. She is said to be a cooperating witness.
According to U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, Cilins offered to pay the widow as much as $5 million if, in exchange, she would provide certain documents he knew were being sought by special agents of the FBI.
These documents revealed an alleged attempted bribe of millions of dollars, among other benefits, to the former dictator with the understanding that the leader would help obtain valuable mining concessions in the Simandou Region in Guinea.
Cilins is facing one count of witness tampering, obstructing a federal criminal investigation and conspiring to destroy evidence in a federal criminal investigation. The charges carry a maximum penalty of up to 45 years’ imprisonment.
Meanwhile, the government of Guinea has banned Steinmetz from visiting Guinea “as a security matter” and is reportedly considering stripping the Steinmetz venture of its mining rights. Guinea, a former French colony, has almost half of the world’s bauxite reserves and significant reserves of iron ore, gold and diamond reserves, but the majority of its 11 million people live in poverty as a result of years of corruption that has deterred many would-be investors.