Guinea's ex-minister of mines was sentenced Friday to seven years in prison by a judge who said the U.S. citizen betrayed the Republic of Guinea by accepting $8.5 million in bribes.
U.S. District Judge Denise Cote said she believes Mahmoud Thiam went to Guinea "to help it, not to rob it," only to encounter a dysfunctional government in a land where the rule of law did not exist.
"He saw corruption all around him. He decided ultimately to succumb to corruption," she said shortly before she announced the sentence, which was less than the 12 years or more called for by federal sentencing guidelines.
Thiam, 50, of Manhattan, was convicted in May of money laundering charges. He has remained incarcerated since his December arrest.
The government said he laundered $8.5 million in bribes as he used his official position as minister of mines in 2009 and 2010 to help a Chinese conglomerate that paid him bribes to obtain exclusive and highly valuable investment rights in Guinea.
Cote said Thiam lied during his trial testimony in a bid for acquittal and showed no remorse after his conviction.
"I even sense a whiff of entitlement," she added.
But she expressed sympathy for his background, which defense attorney Aaron Goldsmith said in court papers included the torture killing of his father, a political prisoner, when a violent Communist regime ruled the country in 1971.
Thiam, born in Conakry, Guinea, was smuggled out of the country at the time with his siblings, Goldsmith said. He lived on his uncle's farm in France for several years before moving to Belgium and later to the United States in the late 1980s to attend college.
After graduating from Cornell University, he entered finance, where he was successful before friends persuaded him to return to his native land, Goldsmith said.
In a release, Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said Thiam enriched himself at the expense of one of Africa's poorest countries and then used much of the bribe money to pay for his children's Manhattan private school tuition and to buy a $3.75 million estate in Dutchess County.
"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," he said.